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European Regions Airline Association Demands Flexibility

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The impact of COVID-19 on airlines around the world is plain to see as the pandemic challenges the viability of the global air transport system like never before. The current industry crisis is much worse and more widespread than 9/11, SARS or the global financial crisis.

For this reason, European Regions Airline Association - ERA has joined fellow associations IATA, A4E and AIRE in co-signing a letter to DG MOVE, calling for changes related to the Reference Period 3 (2020–2024) performance scheme approval process, until such time as all stakeholders have handled the current emergency.

The process under regulation EU2019/373, calls for meaningful consultation, which simply cannot happen at this time. The current crisis means that we still do not have an updated STATFOR forecast that reflects the traffic demand in the years ahead, which is a fundamental prerequisite for any performance conversation. Any forecasts that are produced will be subject to significant uncertainty, as airlines simply do not know how consumers will react in months ahead. The European Commission took swift action to waive the application of the 80/20 slot rule, clearly demonstrating that when it is necessary all regulatory aspects can be considered, and if necessary, changed to suit the current circumstances.

ERA is also pleased to see EASA’s decision to provide exemption templates to national competent authorities in order to harmonise measures to facilitate extension of the validity period of licences, ratings, certificates and attestations of aircrew, instructors, examiners, mechanics, air traffic controllers and aeromedical examiners. Nevertheless, there is another emerging concern during this time of crisis – a reduction in the availability of maintenance and repair organisations (MRO) to comply with approved aircraft maintenance programmes.

MROs have significantly reduced their working arrangements following COVID-19 restrictions put in place across the globe, but with many aircraft expected to require maintenance to return to service once borders reopen, this will without doubt have a knock-on effect and lead to a lack of available MRO slots. As a result, operators will have to postpone these checks, meaning aircraft will not be able to be operated at a time when they will be needed the most, and the exemption to extend the training to crew will be of little use when the aircraft required to requalify crew are grounded for overdue maintenance. Industry is in desperate need for appropriate and pragmatic levels of flexibility to be applied by EASA and the competent authorities, whilst ensuring the highest level of aircraft safety is maintained. ERA urges EASA to provide an interval extension for maintenance tasks to ensure that operations are not affected once no longer grounded by COVID-19.

Further to this, with a dramatic reduction in air traffic and a complete stop in some parts of Europe, airlines are devoting their efforts to managing the situation at hand. Without doubt, safety remains the highest priority of all operations, but resources within organisations are currently focussed on pure survival and crisis management. As a result, spare resources are simply unavailable for activities like participation in rulemaking or consultation groups that, although very important, are overwhelmed by this crisis. For these reasons, ERA requests EASA freeze all non-urgent consultation and rulemaking activities for, initially, three months with resumption of normal activities to be evaluated as the situation develops.

ERA also supports IATA’s renewed call to governments to take urgent measures to ensure that vital air cargo supply lines remain open, efficient and effective. Airlines are facing significant problems with different attitudes and interpretations of directives and guidance by individual member states and National Supervisory Authorities. These key obstacles must be removed to ensure life-saving medical supplies and equipment are not grounded due to cumbersome and bureaucratic processes.

Montserrat Barriga, ERA Director General, says: “The catastrophic effect COVID-19 is having on the aviation industry is clearly only the beginning of this challenge. Now more than ever, co-ordinated action is needed. Many members from across the association are currently battling for survival; these emergency measures are essential to support the future recovery of the industry and must be implemented as soon as possible so that operators can focus on the matter at hand. Operators, authorities and the MRO industry must work together to ensure that aircraft safety is kept at the highest level, so we are prepared for when any relaxations and flexibility are considered.”

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