Sustainable aviation in times of pandemic

By Marian-Jean Marinescu, MEP, EPP Speaker in TRAN Committee (pictured)
Winter 2020

In its Position Paper on Transport – Mobility and Transport until 2030 – published on 22 October this year, the EPP Group in the European Parliament underlined that freedom of movement and a well-functioning European transport sector is the cornerstone of growth and employment in the EU, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic and the future European recovery.

This is why, as the EPP speaker in TRAN Committee, I called for the application of one simple rule during similar crises: open borders for the transport of goods. All EU citizens have to enjoy mobility, as is one of their rights provided by the EU Treaty. By setting up a stronger, more resilient and sustainable transport network, Europe will be able to overcome future crises and master challenges.

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an unprecedented crisis, resulting in the collapse of air connectivity and putting at risk the future of the entire aviation chain– with far-reaching consequences for the civil aeronautical industry and their supply chain, as well as for the competitiveness of the aeronautics industry. Due to collapsing demand, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) had to reduce their production levels.

This has major impact not only on the OEMs and their workforce but also on the many supply chain companies including mid cap suppliers and SMEs that often have no big financial buffer to weather this perfect storm. Without public support millions of jobs are at risk. But even with public support, the path to recovery will be long and might take between 3-5 years to get back to pre-COVID levels.

In addition to this challenging economic situation in the short and medium term, civil aviation is facing the longer-term challenge of decarbonizing and advancing in the greening of the sector. It is therefore essential to link COVID recovery with the need for continued investment into actions that help the decarburization of civil aviation in the medium and long term. Moreover, the current low demand levels are also an opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation of the industry and civil aviation. Due to the current economic crisis, public support will be essential since many companies face cash flow problems and are therefore only able to sustain longer term investments if they get public support.

The pandemic has created a real crisis for both airlines and plane manufacturers. What have we learned from it? That we need an EU-level coordination of travel restrictions, hygiene and health protocols. The Recovery and Resilience Facility should include a Project of European Added Value for the aeronautics industry’s recovery to facilitate the replacement of fleets with new and more sustainable products.

On the other hand, the aviation needs to adapt to the climate change. The same as the pandemic, climate change is global. A global challenge that needs a global solution. Therefore, the EU needs to support efficient and viable international initiatives in all areas including transport, especially in the aviation and maritime sectors.

Aviation needs to advance the deployment and ensure ambition in the international carbon offsetting scheme, known as CORSIA. To achieve this, the Union must speak with one voice in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Alternative aviation fuels need to increase market share in order to contribute to emissions reduction. Therefore, we underline in EPP Transport Position paper that a thorough assessment of the life-cycle emission of these fuels is needed. Further emissions reduction may be achieved with the adoption and implementation of the legislation on the Single European Sky 2+.

The EU already supports research in aviation (Clean Sky Joint Undertaking) and this should continue and intensify to provide technological solutions including for alternative fuels. Solutions stemming from such research, like the use of satellites and the complete deployment of the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) should be completed as soon as possible throughout the EU.

A revision of state aid rules for airports is also necessary in order to significantly decrease emissions and travel time, while increasing efficiency. Therefore, we called on the Commission to incentivize aircraft manufacturers to adapt future production to European short distance, single-leg flights suitable for electric solutions. Airports should be systematically connected to cities through (high-speed) train lines. Airports must use only zeroemissions vehicles.

As we have stated in the conclusions of the 5th Aeronautics conference organized under the umbrella of "Sky and Space Intergroup", Member States should include in their national recovery and resilience plans investments in cross- border and multi-country projects, which can contribute to the economic recovery and generate European Added Value, while supporting the Union’s 2050 climate neutrality objective with respect to aviation. In addition to this, a European Aviation and Aeronautics Recovery Plan should be set-up to support a sustainable aviation roadmap and a future competitiveness in order to ensure that Europe remains a leader in terms of sustainable and green recovery of the aviation sector.

The EU should implement a green incentive scheme for aircraft operators to replace older aircraft (fixed wing and helicopters) with more modern and environmentally friendly aircraft; use public funds dedicated to the recovery to provide such incentives to aircraft operators. On average, new aircraft models are 20%-25% more fuel-efficient.

Moreover, we should set up a European public investment plan for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) in order to increase their market share and contribute to emissions reduction. Last but not least, there is a need to investment in green airport and heliport infrastructure. We also need to invest in research and deployment of sustainable fuels for the aviation sector as well as the corresponding charging points in airports or logistics platforms. The new fifth window for strategic European investment within the financing programme of InvestEU and next Connecting Europe Facility should contribute to this objective. Digital transformation of the industry must remain a top priority for the EU, and the fast and ambitious implementation of the EU Digital- and Data Strategy is more important than ever.

Transport must provide the best conditions for passengers. The EPP Group is calling for a fair system of passenger rights in all modes of transport. The European Commission should provide a legislative framework for multimodal, "door to door" ticketing, booking and payment services. Effective solutions are needed to manage the pressure put on the transport network and the environment without generating heavy costs and administrative burden for users. Transport must be fit to cope with new environmental, socio-economic, technological developments as well as public health, requiring significant investments in new mobility models, digitalization, research and innovation, alternative energy sources and energy efficiency.

Transport must contribute to reaching the EU emissions reduction targets in a technologically neutral way, while making sure that transport remains affordable. It can hugely benefit from research and the Union's research policy has to be geared towards strengthening the sector's competitiveness, environmental performance and maximizing its benefits.

Mobility and transport are a precondition for prosperity, wealth and opportunities. Mobility brings individuals and consequently all of Europe closer together. Therefore, the EPP Group is committed to making our European transport system affordable, reliable, digital and sustainable. We want to keep the transport costs per household at the current levels, forge a borderless Single European Transport Area and reduce pollution and emissions through technological progress, efficiency and investment. Low levels of aviation funding in the EU's next multi-annual financial framework (MFF) are not sufficient to advance firmly and in due time towards the EU's increasing climate goal ambitions set in the European Green Deal (55% CO2 reductions by 2030, climate neutrality by 2050).