For a Better Airport Experience

The European Commission has presented a package of policy proposals aimed at increasing the capacity of Europe’s airports, improving the quality of passenger service, and reducing noise emissions.

The Airport Package, as it is called, consists of three legislative proposals, dealing with:
• Slot Allocation
• Ground-Handling Services
• Airport Noise

These legislative proposals come accompanied by a “Communication” setting out the Commission’s broader view of airport issues and policy. Below we take a brief look, first at the Communication, and then at each of the three legislative proposals.

The Communication

The Communication on EU airport policy aims to promote growth, connectivity and sustainable mobility across Europe. It highlights the progress made in implementing the 2007 Action Plan for airport capacity, efficiency and safety in Europe and identifies two key challenges for European airports: capacity and quality.

The Capacity Challenge

The Communication identifies several reasons why Europe needs to make the best possible use of its existing airport capacity as well as increase it. The gap between capacity and demand at EU airports is growing, while increased competition and a shift in the global aviation market have contributed to a decrease in airport capacity.

The Communication recommends that optimising and increasing capacity can be achieved through the following measures: 
• Aligning capacity on the ground and in the air, which would contribute to the Single European Sky project
• Ensuring a more resource-efficient slot allocation system 
• Balancing noise protection with mobility needs
• Encouraging public and private investments to fund airport infrastructure at EU level, in particular through the framework of the Connecting Europe Facility, including the TEN-T, the Cohesion Fund and the European Regional Development Fund

The Quality Challenge

The Communication also proposes a number of actions to improve the quality of airport services. It points out that there is a need to promote airport accessibility and efficiency through rail links such as “Airport Express” services, regional train services and high-speed rail. Ground handling services, such as baggage handling, ramp handling, refuelling and oil, freight and mail services, should also be improved at EU airports. The Communication emphasises the importance of transparent airport and security charges for airlines and passengers and the safety of airport operations.

Improving Slot Allocations

The first legislative proposal aims to ensure optimal allocation and use of airport slots in congested airports across the EU. The specific objectives of the proposal are to ensure strengthened and effectively implemented slot allocation and use, and to enhance fair competition between operators.

The proposal identifies several actions to improve current slot allocation at EU airports. It would allow for secondary trade in slots and increased competition, allowing airlines to buy and sell slots in many cases. Under the current Regulation, the transfer of slots is allowed only in a very limited number of cases. In addition, the proposal aims to broaden the definition of “new entrant” in order to facilitate the growth of sustainable competitors and reduce schedule fragmentation.

Secondly, the proposal aims to strengthen the transparency of the slot allocation process and the independence of slot coordinators. The proposal includes several provisions to ensure that the slot allocation process is as transparent as possible. It establishes stricter criteria with regard to the independence of the coordinators and supports enhanced cooperation between coordinators through the development of common projects.

Thirdly, the Regulation would integrate slot allocation with the reform of the European air traffic management system (Single European Sky project). The proposal strengthens the management of the aviation network at European level by linking the European Network Manager with the slot allocation process. The proposal also introduces a new category of airport: the “network airport”.

Last but not least, the proposal amends the “80-20” rule to discourage the late return of slots to the pool. Airlines would need to use at least 85% of their allocated series of slots (instead of 80% at present) in order to be granted priority for the allocation of a given slot. Additionally, the minimum number of weekly slots required for priority allocation for the following corresponding season would be raised from five to 15 for the summer season and 10 for the winter season.

Streamlining ground-handling services

The second legislative proposal seeks to improve the quality and efficiency of ground-handling services at EU airports by opening up the self-handling market and increasing the minimum number of service providers from two to three at large airports (with not less than 5 million passengers annually or 100 000 tonnes of freight).

The proposal would also improve the tender procedure by establishing that suppliers must be selected according to transparent, open and non-discriminatory practices.

The selection of suppliers would be done in two stages: a qualification procedure and an award procedure. Suppliers would be authorised for a minimum period of seven years and a maximum period of 10 years with some exceptions. The invitation to tender would be launched and published in the EU’s Official Journal.

The proposal would allow Member States to strengthen the rights of airport workers when a supplier of ground handling services loses its authorisation to provide services. The proposal sets out a number of limitations for Member States in order to ensure that employees can be transferred under existing conditions when a new provider is contracted.

The proposal also lays out several exemptions for self-handling and third-party ground handling. For instance, the expected Regulation would allow Member States concerned to limit the number of suppliers to not fewer than two, with some exceptions. It would also allow Member State to contract a single supplier for airports with not less than two million passengers annually or 50 000 tonnes of freight. The proposal stresses that exceptions should not give rise to competition distortions and should not extend further than necessary.

Managing Airport Noise

The third legislative proposal would apply the noise-related operating restrictions of the “Balanced Approach” on noise management in the EU. The “Balanced Approach” is a set of principles adopted by the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which encourages its contracting states to mitigate aviation noise, select the most cost-effective range of measures and not introduce noise-related operating restrictions unless there is a serious noise problem.

This proposal would require that decisions on cutting noise levels be taken in line with the ICAO guidelines. The aim of the proposal is to clarify the different steps of the decision-making process when considering operating restrictions.

The proposal clarifies and completes requirements of the existing Directive 2002/30/EC. In particular, the proposal seeks: 
• To specify objectives on air traffic noise 
• To define allocation of responsibilities
• To list general requirements to manage noise 
• To define the noise assessment process in more detail
• To specify stakeholders to be consulted
• To harmonise data and methods
• To specify notification and introduction requirements
• To allow comitology to adapt reference to noise standards to new technological development 
• To support competent authorities

Member States would have to adopt a Balanced Approach with regard to aircraft noise management through assessing the noise situation at individual airports, identifying and implementing cost-effective measures to reduce the noise impact and consulting stakeholders. They would also be obliged to differentiate noise mitigating measures according to: aircraft type, runway use and/or timeframe covered.

Measures would have to be proportionate. In other words, they would not have to be more restrictive than necessary to achieve noise abatement objectives. The expected Regulation would allow withdrawing marginally compliant aircrafts, if necessary, including aircrafts registered in developing countries.

The proposal requires Member States to nominate competent authorities to adopt measures on noise-related operating restrictions and an independent appeal body. Member States would need to notify the Commission of the names and addresses of those two bodies. The proposal also sets out rules on noise assessment. According to these, competent authorities would regularly assess the current and future noise situation at airports.

Next Steps

The Commission's proposals need to be approved by the European Parliament and Member State Governments by the co-decision procedure before being adopted.