The 17th Florence Air Forum, co-organised by the Florence School of Regulation and European Commission’s DG COMP Directorate F, took place on October 22. The aim of this high-level event was to examine, together with key stakeholders, the hard impact of Covid-19 on the air sector and to explore possible ways-forward to ensure its recovery. EPF was invited to participate and to present its views on the topic of ‘connectivity’. 

From EPF’s perspective, it is important to stress that transport is an integrated system. Our goal should be to aim for a system in which a passenger is enabled to use each mode to do that for which it is the most efficient in achieving an affordable, reliable, sustainable end-to-end journey.

The consequences of the pandemic are massive in the whole transport sector. All companies are under financial pressure and many have claimed governmental support. Whereas this is understandable, and needed, in EPF’s view, state aid to airlines must meet a number of conditions:

  • Efforts should be taken to mitigate the environmental impact of air travel;
  • Airlines need to respect their obligations towards both staff and passengers;
  • Finally and very importantly, state aid should be guided by the principles of market efficiency and connectivity.

This means that state aid should only be used to support air services that (i) are needed to ensure connectivity, i.e. connections that are considered of ‘general interest’ (ii) cannot be fulfilled by another (more environmentally friendly) transport mode.

A level playing field should be guaranteed. State aid may distort competition on the one hand between airlines but also between transport modes. State aid should be available on a non-discriminatory basis, to carriers big and small, including regional airlines and new entrants, and considered from a more multimodal perspective.

Likewise, EPF is in favour of internalisation of external cost – for all modes: transport price should reflect its real cost, and the basis of charging should be consistent across modes. This has been recognized in the Fit for 55 package that will change the market considerably.

A return to ‘business as usual’, i.e. further unbridled growth of air traffic, is not the way forward. Covid-19 actually has invited us to rethink ‘essential travel’ in terms of both people’s travel needs and in terms of an essential network needed to fulfil these needs. A reduced network reinforces the need for a system connectivity approach. There is a role for Public Service Obligations – based on a cost-benefit analysis – where there are perceived social needs as long as this is dealt with in a transparent way.

The 17th Florence Air Forum’s event page, including the presentations of all speakers, is available here.