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UK's #HeathrowAirport passenger numbers down 88% amid ongoing travel restrictions

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Britain’s Heathrow Airport renewed its call for COVID-19 testing at airports on Tuesday (11 August) as it reported an 88% plunge in July passenger numbers due to ongoing restrictions on travel which it said were strangling the UK economy, writes James Davey.

Heathrow, which is owned by a group of investors including Spain’s Ferrovial (FER.MC), the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp, said 60% of Heathrow’s route network remained grounded, requiring passengers to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Despite thousands of Britons holidaying overseas after months of lockdown, the government has already reimposed quarantine on arrivals from Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Bahamas and Andorra.

Last week finance minister Rishi Sunak said the government would not hesitate to add more countries to its quarantine list when asked whether France could also join it.

However, Heathrow believes airport testing of passengers could safely keep routes open and restart others to help the UK’s economic recovery.

“Tens of thousands of jobs are being lost because Britain remains cut off from critical markets such as the U.S., Canada and Singapore,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.

“The government can save jobs by introducing testing to cut quarantine from higher risk countries, while keeping the public safe from a second wave of COVID.”

Over 860,000 passengers travelled through Heathrow in July - down 88% on the previous year, but a slight uplift in traffic since the start of the pandemic, driven by the UK government’s creation of the first “travel corridors” on 4 July.

Aviation Strategy for Europe

Single European Sky: For a more sustainable and resilient air traffic management

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The European Commission is proposing an upgrade of the Single European Sky regulatory framework which comes on the heels of the European Green Deal. The objective is to modernize the management of European airspace and to establish more sustainable and efficient flightpaths. This can reduce up to 10% of air transport emissions.

The proposal comes as the sharp drop in air traffic caused by the coronavirus pandemic calls for greater resilience of our air traffic management, by making it  easier to adapt traffic capacities to demand.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean declared: “Planes are sometimes zig-zagging between different blocks of airspace, increasing delays and fuel consumed. An efficient air traffic management system means more direct routes and less energy used, leading to less emissions and lower costs for our airlines. Today's proposal to revise the Single European Sky will not only help cut aviation emissions by up to 10% from a better management of flight paths, but also stimulate digital innovation by opening up the market for data services in the sector. With the new proposed rules we help our aviation sector advancing on the dual green  and digital transitions.”

Not adapting air traffic control capacities would result in additional costs, delays and CO2 emissions. In 2019, delays alone cost the EU €6 billion, and led to 11.6 million tonnes (Mt) of excess CO2. Meanwhile, obliging pilots to fly in congested airspace rather than taking a direct flight path entails unnecessary CO2 emissions, and the same is the case when airlines are taking longer routes to avoid charging zones with higher rates.

The European Green Deal, but also new technological developments such as wider use of drones, have put digitalization and decarbonization of transport at the very heart of EU aviation policy. However, curbing emissions remains a major challenge for aviation. The Single European Sky therefore paves the way for a European airspace that is used optimally and embraces modern technologies. It ensures collaborative network management that allows airspace users to fly environmentally-optimal routes. And it will allow digital services which do not necessarily require the presence of local infrastructure.

To secure safe and cost-effective air traffic management services, the Commission proposes actions such as:

  • Strengthening the European network and its management to avoid congestion and suboptimal flight routes;
  • promoting a European market for data services needed for a better air traffic management;
  • streamlining the economic regulation of air traffic services provided on behalf of member states to stimulate greater sustainability and resilience, and;
  • boosting better co-ordination for the definition, development and deployment of innovative solutions.

Next Steps

The current proposal will be submitted to the Council and the Parliament for deliberations, which  the Commission hopes will be concluded without delay.

Subsequently, after final adoption of the proposal, implementing and delegated acts will need to be prepared with experts to address more detailed and technical matters.

Background

The Single European Sky initiative was launched in 2004 to reduce fragmentation of the airspace over Europe, and to improve the performance of air traffic management in terms of safety, capacity, cost-efficiency and the environment.

A proposal for a revision of the Single European Sky (SES 2+) was put forward by the Commission in 2013, but negotiations have been stalled in Council since 2015. In 2019, a Wise Person's Group, composed of 15 experts in the field, was set up to assess the current situation and future needs for air traffic management in the EU, which resulted in several recommendations. The Commission then amended its 2013 text, introducing new measures, and drafted a separate proposal to amend the EASA Basic Regulation. The new proposals are accompanied by a Staff Working Document, presented here.

More information

Questions and Answers: Single European Sky: for an efficient and sustainable air traffic management

 

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#Aviation - Statement by Commissioner Vălean on the Commission's intention to extend the slot waiver 

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Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean has issued a statement following the adoption of the Commission report on the potential extension of the Slot Regulation amendment

Commissioner Vălean said: “The report shows that air traffic levels remain low, and more importantly, they are not likely to recover in the near future. In this context, the lack of certainty over slots makes it difficult for airlines to plan their schedules, making planning difficult for airports and passengers. To address the need for certainty and responding to traffic data, I intend to extend the slot waiver for the 2020/2021 winter season, until 27 March 2021.”

The full statement is available online.

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Commission approves €62 million Romanian loan guarantee to compensate Blue Air for damage suffered due to #Coronavirus outbreak and provide the airline with urgent liquidity support

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a Romanian loan guarantee of up to around €62 million (approximately RON 301m) in favour of Romanian airline Blue Air. Blue Air is a private Romanian airline with bases in Romania, Italy and Cyprus. It qualified as a company in difficulty before the coronavirus outbreak, i.e. on 31 December 2019. More specifically, the company was loss making due to the extensive investments it undertook since 2016 to improve its network of routes. The airline had returned to profitability in 2019 and early 2020, but it suffered significant losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The measure consists of a public guarantee of up to around €62m on a loan to the airline which will be allocated as follows: (i) around €28m public guarantee to compensate Blue Air for the damage directly caused by the coronavirus outbreak between 16 March 2020 and 30 June 2020; and (ii) around €34m rescue aid in the form of a public guarantee on a loan intended to partly cover Blue Air's acute liquidity needs as a result of the high operating losses it has been experiencing following the coronavirus outbreak. Blue Air is not eligible to receive support under the Commission's State aid Temporary Framework, aimed at companies that were not already in difficulty on 31 December 2019.

The Commission therefore has assessed the measure under other State aid rules, in line with the notification by Romania. With respect to the damage compensation, the Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b), which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies for the damages directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

As regards the rescue aid, the Commission assessed it under the Commission's 2014 Guidelines on state aid for rescue and restructuring, which enable member states to support companies in difficulty, provided, in particular, that the public support measures are limited in time and scope and contribute to an objective of common interest. The Commission therefore concluded that the Romanian measure is in line with EU state aid rules.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The aviation sector has been severely hit by the coronavirus outbreak. This €62m Romanian loan guarantee will in part enable Romania to compensate Blue Air for the damage suffered as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, it will provide the airline with the necessary resources to address part of its urgent and immediate liquidity needs. This will avoid disruptions for passengers and ensure regional connectivity in particular for the significant number of Romanian citizens working abroad and for many small local businesses that depend on affordable tickets offered by Blue Air on a network of routes aimed at addressing their specific needs. We continue working with member states to discuss possibilities and find workable solutions to preserve this important part of the economy in line with EU rules.”

A full press release is available online.

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