A Parliament report, adopted on 11 October, warns the Commission that its plan to tackle congestion at European airports simply by "optimising existing capacity" (EurActiv 24/01/07) will be insufficient to address the large rise in demand for flights.
With air travel growing at a rate of 5.2% per year, flight demand will be 2.5 times bigger in 2025 than it was in 2003, rendering at least 60 European airports unable to handle the daily traffic without encountering delays or unaccomodated demand. This shortage of capacity "will necessarily open a market for new major airports (up to ten, according to a Eurocontrol study) and medium-sized airports (up to 15, according to Eurocontrol)", states the report.
While acknowledging the importance and urgency of boosting existing capacity, notably by improving slot allocation and ground-handling services in airports, as suggested in the Commission's proposal, Parliament urges the EU executive to "take a further step" and come up with a "Master plan for enhanced airport capacity in Europe" before 2009, containing measures to "promote and coordinate any national and cross-border initiatives for building new airport capacities".
"Airports are so congested that if one flight gets slightly delayed, it affects many other airports. The lack of airport capacity is therefore not just a national problem - it is a European problem", pointed out Danish Liberal MEP Anne Jensen, who drafted the report.
The report adds that building new capacity would also be a first step towards averting unnecessary air pollution caused by en route or ramp congestion, but says that additional measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions and noise - such as including aviation in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (see LinksDossier on Aviation & ETS), taxing kerosene or differentiating airport charges according to environmental performance - would be necessary.
In a parallel development, Parliament gave the green light to an 'open skies' agreement concluded between the EU and the US earlier this year, which will remove current restrictions on the number of carriers that are allowed to fly the transatlantic route – a move which is likely to further increase the capacity crunch faced by European airports.
While welcoming the report, MEPs nevertheless stressed the need to secure further rights for Europe on issues such as cabotage and foreign ownership and control in the second stage of negotiations (see LinksDossier on Open skies).
The European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) welcomed the adoption of the report, but regrets that Parliament and the Commission are set to propose further market liberalisation, to which it is opposed. Amendments to the current directive should concentrate on the quality of ground handling services and the quality of employment, it says, fearing that market liberalisation would "worsen the already precarious labour conditions at European ground handling services' providers".