This own initiative opinion follows the following objectives:
draw the attention to the key challenges faced by regional airports as a result of the COVID-19 crisis but alsoin the long term;
highlight the investment needs of regional airports, with particular consideration of safety and security issues as well as economic needs and environmental standards;
highlight the potential of regional airports for the implementation of the Green Deal, in particular by creating multimodal hubs, interconnections and interoperability with sustainable transport system in Europe, especially rail;
thoroughly assess the extent of possible support for regional airports under the national Recovery and Resilience Plans;
come forward with proposals on the extent to which state aid provisions applicable to regional airports could be reviewed as part of the revision of state aid rules announced in the Commission's Work Programme 2021.
Through its preparation (bilateral meetings with representatives of the EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, Portuguese Presidency) and aviation stakeholders,written stakeholder consultation, media coverage, etc), the opinion already drew the attention on the key challenges faced by regional airports, in the short and long term, and strategies to be explored.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- points out the particularly worrying situation of regional airports (i.e. airports that are not airports hubs and whose main catchment area is not the capital); faced with sharp drops in revenues (- 8.8% in 2020) and in air traffic (up to 95%), 193 airports were facing insolvency in October 2020; calls on the European Commission to classify airports;
- reminds the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, aiming at a 90% reduction in transport CO2 emissions by 2050; provides recommendations to airports to mitigate their emission (e.g. incentivise new fuel, modulate airline's charges) and stresses the role of local and regional authorities, which often own or manage regional airports;
- stresses the need to deepen integration between transport modes, particularly air and rail (e.g. by introducing combined air-rail tickets); in the long term, it should be considered whether stopping short-distance flights is appropriate;
- recognises that regions' development depends to a large extent on the quality of their connectivity; regional airports play a prominent role in EU territorial cohesion, even more so in the case of archipelagos, sparsely populated, peripheral, outermost or less developed regions, when they lack other convenient and environmentally friendly means of transport; they also form an especially crucial element of critical infrastructure, vital for the security of a country and its citizens;
- calls on the European Commission to develop more flexible and effective public aid rules to provide regional airports with financial assistance in line with the relevant ERDF and RRF provisions in peripheral, island or outermost or less developed regions where a more efficient and sustainable alternative does not exist; small regional airports, not in competition with other airports and with an annual traffic of up to 1 million passengers should be exempted from state aid notification;
- urges the allocation of EU funds to the development of safety, security, innovation and digitalisation of airports as well as of research and development in particular towards noise and emissions reduction; public investments in regional airports should comply with the objectives of the European Green Deal and the principle "no harm for the environment.