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Last Thursday a hearing on "General and Business Aviation in the European Community" took place in the European Parliament. More than 60 participants representing general- and business-aviation operators and aircraft manufacturers, airports, the European Parliament, the European Commission, EC member states, Eurocontrol, the European Aviation Safety Agency and SESAR Joint Undertaking participated in the event.
Until recently, addressing the specificities of general and business aviation at the European Community level was not necessary. However, with the extension of the community competences in the area of safety and security, upgrade of the Single European Sky and deployment of the new Air Traffic Management system for Europe, the expected "capacity crunch" and concerns about environmental impacts of aviation, EU activities have been said to have an increasing relevance also for this sector.
The hearing addressed three main topics: 1) regulatory aspects of general and business aviation; 2) access of general and business aviation to the airspace; and 3) capacity constraints on the ground affecting the sector. The commission presented its policy approach to general and business aviation, recognizing its value for the European economy and reiterating its commitment to ensuring proportionate regulations, properly adapted to the needs and specific characteristics of the sector.
General and business aviation
General and business aviation is very diverse. It encompasses activities ranging from recreational flying with non-powered aircraft to complex operation of high-performance business jets and specialized aerial works. This creates challenges, as policy initiatives cannot be based on the "one size fits all" approach.
A significant part of general and business aviation are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or nonprofit organizations that rely on volunteers. Very often, these individuals or small firms have limited resources to keep up with changes in regulatory or technical requirements.
On the industrial side, European general and business aviation manufacturing industry is breaking out to the world markets in an unprecedented way. That momentum needs to be sustained by proper regulation and stimulation of innovation and research.
In the area of safety, the said priority of the commission is the development of proportionate implementing rules for the new basic EASA regulation, extending the scope of competences of the agency to flight operations and pilot licensing. The commission also says it intends to adapt the maintenance standards for aircraft not involved in commercial air transport and in particular for aircraft not classified as "complex motor-powered aircraft." In this respect it has presented a set of measures to be adopted as a matter of priority.
Access to airspace
The second challenge is the development and implementation of the next-generation European air traffic management system (SESAR). The commission is undertaking a detailed analysis of the work done by the SESAR Consortium, with a view to preparing a proposal for the European ATM Master Plan to be endorsed by the council. Cost-benefit analysis of the project for different categories of airspace users, including for general and business aviation, will constitute an important element of this assessment.
Since 2003, the number of aircraft movements in this segment registered by Eurocontrol has been growing almost twice as quickly as the rest of the traffic (22 percent more flights in 2006 than in 2003, compared to a 14% increase for the rest of the traffic). Analysis of traffic trends, aircraft shipments and orders suggests that demand for highly flexible, private and business air transportation will continue to strongly grow in the years to come. Key factors contributing to this trend are:
Need for more mobility, flexibility and point-to-point services;
Increasing congestion of the main airports;
Continuous efforts of enterprises and individuals to increase their productivity gains;
Development of new technologies that make aircraft more efficient and less costly.
In 2005, general and business aviation in Europe served more than 80,000 city pairs. The vast majority of this traffic was between city pairs that had a very limited scheduled alternative (less then one scheduled flight per working day). European aerial-works companies provide high-value, specialized services, both in the community and third countries. These include map charting, off-shore services and construction works, pipeline patrolling and conservation, agricultural flights, environment surveillance, weather research, fire-fighting, TV-Live reporting and traffic surveillance.
In 2006 about 9% of all aircraft movements registered by Eurocontrol could be attributed to general and business aviation. Since 2003 this segment has been growing almost twice as quickly as the rest of the traffic, and the trend is expected to be maintained in the years to come. If capacity levels are not increased proportionally to the overall traffic rise, general and business aviation might be increasingly in competition for access to airspace and infrastructure with the wider airline industry. In this regard, both the impact and specific needs of general and business aviation have to be taken into account in the capacity planning and optimization exercises.
Ari Syrquin is the head of the GSCB Law Firm International Department.
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