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Day 1 report

ERA’s Regional Airline Conference kicked off on Wednesday 13 March in a sunny and vibrant Berlin. Our annual spring event is the first opportunity for all ERA members to gather and exchange on the issues affecting their businesses.

The event began with the exclusive Airline & Airport CEOs’ breakfast and meeting where leaders enjoyed some valuable face time with regulators.

Raúl Medina, Director General of EUROCONTROL emphasised that engagement with operational stakeholders is critical so that the agency can understand and deliver what airlines and airports need. He explained that the three main priorities for the agency are technology, innovation and people. Equally, EUROCONTROL faces challenges in effectively managing traffic in the short term, balancing increased demand versus continued airspace shortfalls.

Maria Rueda, Strategy and Safety Management Director, EASA stressed the importance of tri-lateral stakeholder engagement between Member States, industry and EASA. She covered some key areas the agency is working on, including sustainability; using AI to enhance safety; electronic personnel licenses; cybersecurity; EU261; pilot retirement age; GNSS jamming/spoofing; and RefuelEU.

Henrik Mørch, Director, DG COMP, European Commission pointed out that the economic impact of COVID-19 is not over, however the aviation segment has remained competitive. The pandemic shows that EU competition rules are flexible enough to manage crises like this. The pandemic was a stress test of the EU state aid framework. But the question is now: how do we make the aviation sector more resilient?

After a busy networking lunch at which all members began reconnecting, they then gathered for the first conference session where panellists addressed the complex issue of competition, asking the question: is there still capacity for us all in the current landscape?

Competition is, and always has been, part of the business, and regional airlines react to it. Panellist Henrik Mørch, Director, DG COMP, European Commission believed that the main challenge is that of ongoing mergers, which will have an indirect impact on regional airlines.

Another concern is about the potential closure of regional airports and the subsequent effect on European connectivity, and therefore whether they should be supported with subsidies. The Commission will also need to consider if it can intervene with operational aid to airports given current EU environmental policy.

Following a coffee break to reflect on discussions, the theme of our second conference session was how to finance the green transition. With panellists bringing perspectives from airlines, a fuel company, a lessor and a new technology aircraft manufacturer, the debate was wide-ranging.

According to IATA, the cost of reaching net zero is about to be $3 trillion by 2050 worldwide, and at EU level, the cost is envisaged to be €800 billion by 2050. Regional aviation is a sector that has to cope with all three pillars of reaching net zero: uptake of new technologies, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and operational measures.

Participants reflected upon the need for the sector to develop investment in the short term in SAF to meet targets and develop industrial capacity, and more importantly, to collectively find financing streams from various finance actors and within the industry. On new technologies, panellists were confident that financing will follow, and that smart market measures are sufficient to build the necessary business case for such aircraft.

It is clear that our regional sector has an important part to play in the green transition and we must have clear short and long-term plans about how to achieve this.

After an interesting day of discussions, delegates started their evening with a relaxed cocktail reception, catching up with colleagues and establishing new connections over drinks and canapés.