The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the entire transport sector hard. EPF is taking part in the Round Table discussions organised jointly by DG MOVE and DG COMP, to discuss with all relevant stakeholders the way forward towards a sustainable recovery strategy for European aviation. The main issues for EPF are restoring public confidence and making aviation more sustainable.

Restoring public confidence

Passengers expect to travel safely. This is their unspoken priority; in fact, it is a precondition for travel. It therefore makes sense to introduce measures to ensure passengers’ health safety, provided that such measures are proportionate and effective; transparent and easily understandable; clearly communicated and timely available to passengers. EPF supports harmonised action across Europe – but also across modes, to guarantee a level playing field: How can it be explained, for example, that airplanes should be allowed to fly at full capacity whereas in trains only half of the seats may be occupied (which is now the case in some countries)?

Another precondition to restore passengers’ confidence is to ensure legal certainty in the area of passenger rights and travel restrictions. The following are EPF’s main priorities for preserving and strengthening air passenger rights (Reg. 261/2004): Address grey zones and inconsistencies; Better enforcement and consumer redress options; Air passenger rights should be improved, not weakened by the review. In the short term, protection in case of airline insolvency is very important. In addition, EPF calls upon the European Commission to monitor and enforce compliance with the Air passenger rights Regulation, notably the right to cash reimbursement.

Making aviation more sustainable

The aviation sector must embrace sustainability in all its aspects – environmental, social, economic – and any public support towards its recovery should be conditional on this. Under the heading ‘social sustainability’, respecting passenger rights should be a precondition to be entitled to state aid. In addition, state support should be guided by the principles of market efficiency and connectivity, i.e. it should only be used to support air services that are needed to ensure connectivity & cannot be fulfilled by another, more environmentally friendly, mode of transport.

EPF calls for a level playing field, not only within aviation– state aid should be available on a non-discriminatory basis and be conditional on a number of obligations, in order to avoid distortion of competition – but in the transport sector as a whole. Any measures to help the air sector recover from the Covid-19 crisis should be considered from a more multimodal perspective. Promoting air travel at the expense of other, more sustainable transport modes (e.g. through tax relief measures) are not acceptable. Instead, 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.

In light of the Green Deal objective, a return to ‘business as usual’, i.e. further unbridled growth of air traffic, is not the way forward. EPF fully supports any initiatives to facilitate EU-wide multimodal travel information (including information on environmental impact), ticketing and payment, which would allow passengers to make an informed and sustainable choice in an integrated transport system.