European Transport Ministers Call For Cooperation In COVID-19 Crisis

European airlines such as Air France have been grounded by the COVID-19 crisis.
Credit: Joe Pries

PARIS—Transport ministers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain have written to European Commissioner for Transport Adina-Ioana Valean asking for funding to help COVID-19 crisis-hit transport companies.

More flexibility on short-term rules as well as longer-term changes to transport policy were also among their requests. 

“In a letter sent April 3, 2020, the four ministers call on the European Commission [EC] to rapidly adopt measures in favor of transport, as much to face up to the urgent needs of the sector in managing the crisis in the short-term as to prepare for its recovery in the medium- and long-term,” France’s Minister of State for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in a statement April 4. 

The ministers called for a guarantee that the continuity of transport of goods to, from and within the European Union (EU)would be maintained, regardless of the mode of transport used, through coordination overseen by the EC. 

“The exceptional health and economic crisis we’re experiencing calls for the suspension or revision of part of the European regulations, for example by prolonging temporarily the validity of certain approvals,” Djebbari said. “State aid rules should also be adapted to allow transport sector companies of any size, and in particular airlines hit hard by the near-complete halt of flights, to benefit from appropriate financial aid.” 

The EC has approved a French scheme allowing airlines to defer the payment of some taxes to help them weather the COVID-19 crisis by reducing pressure on their cash flows, saying it is in line with EU state aid rules. The scheme allows for the deferral of some taxes for the aviation sector with the dual aims of compensating airlines for the damage the coronavirus outbreak has caused them and reducing pressure on their cash flows.

French airlines’ association FNAM has said government measures unveiled so far were necessary but did not go far enough. 

The French, German, Italian and Spanish ministers also called on the EC to protect European infrastructure and operators in the medium-term by promoting a new industrial policy for the transport sector and tightening up regulations on non-European investment in the sector. 

The letter from the four ministries to the EC came as European aviation industry organizations also appealed for coordinated help to weather the crisis, which has seen air travel reduced to almost nothing.  

“Thousands of aircraft in Europe are grounded, requests for ticket refunds are outnumbering new flight bookings, tourism hot spots are empty, and airports across the continent have come to a standstill,” the group of organizations—including Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airline Catering Association (ACA), Airports Council International (ACI EUROPE), Airport Services Association (ASA), The European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA), European Regions Airline Association (ERA), EU Travel Tech (EUTT) and European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC)—said April 3. 

“The current crisis exceeds all foreseeable and manageable expectations. The European institutions must take all the necessary measures to ensure the short-term financial viability of the travel industry enterprises with the objectives of maintaining a functioning travel industry, protecting employees and consumers alike, and help them to efficiently restore air connectivity and support the re-growth of European economies.”

The associations called for improved coordination and rapid financial support for the sector as they said that the aviation sector must be positioned as a “critical enabler of Europe’s economic recovery once the crisis has passed.”

“Europe’s citizens, communities and visitors will see its vibrance restored more rapidly if the air transport sector can quickly recover, once the COVID-19 health crisis has passed. No small part of this depends on governments providing firm supportive measures today,” the associations said.

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.