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Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is banning travel from Europe to the United States, the association representing European airlines has issued an urgent plea for lawmakers to save the industry from collapse.
Airlines have already been suffering as passenger numbers in Europe have halved due to the Coronavirus outbreak in the past weeks. The German government earlier this week said it is considering suspending a planned climate tax on flying that was due to start in April. But the US flight ban has added extra urgency to the situation.
“To be clear, airlines will continue to look after our passengers and our staff as best as we can under the circumstances — but immediate action to alleviate the impact of this crisis on our sector is greatly needed,” said Thomas Reynaert, managing director at Airlines for Europe. “It is also vital that any national measures proposed by third countries to support their national industries do not undermine the competitiveness of European airlines or otherwise disadvantage EU aviation.”
The industry association is asking EU lawmakers for three things:
First, they want the European Commission to rapidly come forward with legislation for the suspension of the EU’s ‘use it or lose it’ rules on airport slots, which Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen announced on Tuesday. Right now airlines are flying empty flights because if they cancel the route, they risk losing coveted ‘slots’ at airport gates under EU rules.
Adoption of the suspension legislation will take some time, but a Commission spokesperson pointed out yesterday that the slots for the summer season have already been allocated, so airlines can start cancelling routes now without fear of losing their slots. But the airlines are hesitant to do so before they know the suspension is official.
A4E says they have not yet received any clarity on the duration of the waiver. “Such a waiver should be valid for the duration of the summer season and requires swift passage in both the European Council and the European Parliament,” they say.
Second, they want a deferment or waiver of any new aviation taxes at EU or national level. “New fiscal burdens should be postponed until the industry is back on a sound operational and financial footing,” they said. “This includes the provisions applicable to aviation in the Energy Taxation Directive.”
Third, they want clarity on COVID-19’s inclusion as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ in EU air passenger rights law, so that they will not have to pay out huge sums to passengers who have had their flights cancelled. “Given travel restrictions have already been introduced by several member states and third countries, consideration should be given as to whether the current re-routing requirement is practical in all circumstances or if a longer time-frame for re-routing could be permitted without giving rise to compensation payments, provided there is appropriate justification.”
The EU’s air passenger rights legislation was already tested in the 2010 after the eruption of an Icelandic volcano caused mass flight cancellations. The EU’s high court later ruled that this counted as a force majeure. In 2013 the European Commission proposed that air carriers may limit the right to accommodation to three nights, with a maximum of €100 per night per passenger. But this proposal has sat stalled in the legislature, not yet been approved by the European Parliament and national governments. A4E is asking for provisional application of this limit now.
“We are now faced with another situation in which there are no formal rules to limit the financial liability of our airlines in case of extraordinary circumstances, be it the eruption of an Icelandic volcano or the current COVID-19 outbreak,” said Reynaert.
The Commission will tomorrow publish the specifics of a Coronavirus economic response package agreed with national leaders on Tuesday. This is expected to contain measures to help EU airlines.
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