Europe eyes moves to woo Chinese air cargo

The European Commission is studying how to improve inefficiencies at European airports to resolve many of the current issues they face, including ground handling liberalisation, so that the 27 member states can benefit from the rapid economic growth of Mainland China, dubbed the 'World's Factory'. By Wong Joon San.

During a recent visit to Hong Kong, Margus Rahuoja, senior adviser of the vice president of the European Commission (Transport), who was speaking to members of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said one of the issues was the liberalisation of ground handling in the EC which was presently not competitive. “On the ground handling issue, the EC wanted the airports to have more than two ground handlers in order to liberalise this sector, but did not achieve its objective due to politics and other constraints as the matter had to get the consent of 27 member states, and not all of them agreed to the proposed solution,” says Rahuoja, who is also the European Commission Delegate for Transport. He points that that this was a difficult issue in Germany as the labour representatives there felt threatened by the EC’s proposal. “In Frankfurt, the airport is shielded from competition and it is a bit of a technical issue,” says Rahuoja, who is from Astonia. He explains that the EC’s proposal to have more ground handlers at airports aimed to increase competition on the ground and therefore improve the quality of services as well as to reduce costs as was presently being done at many Asian airports. In Hong Kong, Singapore and Southern China airports, there are more ground handlers so as to keep them on their toes to provide quality services or face the prospect could be given to another if they did not provide good quality services. Rahuoja also points out that in addition, if European airports did not deal with other social issues like strikes, the future of European aviation would face “gloom”, and although growth would still happen, it would be a question mark as to whether airlines from Asia would fly to their facilities. As aviation continued on its globalisation route with China’s increased economic growth, European airports would then lose out if they were not ready to capitalise on the China Europe trade, Rahuoja says. “One of our big challenges in the EC is the ‘saturation’of the airports as they handled 30,000 aircraft movements per day and the frequency of the flights in the morning peak hours and the afternoon peak hours,” he says, adding that in simple terms, there was simply no space as the single European sky plus traffic management, more aircraft and flights equaled congestion. Despite this, the EC is looking at resolving the issues through taking a digital approach and use of satellite management, he adds. Another issue that the EC was looking at was the re-negotiation of landing slots of some national carriers which had them but did not use, leading to congestion and inefficiency at the airport due to inadequate flights as a result of not fully utilising the allowed slots. During a Q&A session moderated by supply chain and logistics veteran Mark Millar after Rahuoja’s talk, the EC official says increasing and improving freight traffic at European airports was clearly an issue, but the question was how, and that was one of the reasons of his visit to Hong Kong to see if he could pick up some tips for the EC. Cathay Pacific Airways CEO Tony Tyler, who attended Rahuoja’s talk, also voiced his concerns about the EU’s pursuit of improvement to their aviation industry by imposing the emission trading scheme (ETS) on airlines.