“Better European Airports” package launched by European Commission

An important ‘airport package’ was released  by the European Commission on 1st December.  It covers slots, speeding up ground-handling at the airports and noise (where it is proposing the Commission has a greater role).  The reason behind is to allow airports to make more efficient use of their existing capacity in order to allow more planes to use them.  The report says that Europe’s airports are facing a capacity crunch, and air traffic in Europe will nearly double by 2030. Yet Europe will not be in a position to meet a large part of this demand due to a shortage of airport capacity. Already today 5 major European airport hubs are at saturation – operating at full capacity: Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Milan Linate.


“Better Airports” Package Launched

Brussels, 1 December 2011  (European Commission)

The European Commission today announced a comprehensive package of measures to help increase the capacity of Europe’s airports, reduce delays and improve the quality of services offered to passengers. The measures address the quality of services passengers and airlines receive on the ground before they take off and after they land (for example, baggage handling, check-in, refuelling), the transparency of decisions on airport noise, as well as the efficiency of the complex network of take-off and landing slots that make up every journey.

Vice President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner responsible for Transport said: ‘Europe’s airports are facing a capacity crunch. If business and the travelling public are to take best advantage of the air network, we have to act now. 70% of all delays to flights are already caused by problems on the ground not in the air. On present trends, nineteen key European airports will be full to bursting by 2030. The resulting congestion could mean delays for half of all flights across the network. The status quo is not an option for airports in Europe. Faced with intense global competition, if we do not change the way we do business, we may not be doing business at all.”

The package consists of a policy summary document and three legislative measures, on slots, ground-handling and noise.

On slots

The Commission proposals introduce market based mechanisms for the trading of slots between airlines in a transparent way, as well as measures to ensure that existing capacity is used by airlines – by raising the threshold on the “use it or lose it rule” from 80%-85%.

The proposed measures on slots would allow the system to handle 24 million more passengers a year by 2025. They will be worth €5 billion to the European economy and create up to 62,000 jobs over the period 2012-2025

Five European airports are currently operating at capacity: Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Milan Linate. On current trends this could increase to nineteen key airports by 2030, including for example Paris CDG – with very significant consequences for delays and congestion.

On ground-handling

The Commission is putting forward proposals to improve the quality and efficiency of ground handling services at airports.

Measures will include: increasing, for key ground-handling services that are still currently restricted – baggage handling, ramp handling, refuelling and oil, freight and mail services – the minimum choice of ground-handlers available to airlines at large airports from two to three. At the same time, there are new proposals to allow Member States to go further in protecting workers rights so staff can transfer under existing conditions when a contract goes to a new provider. This is essential to provide the stable employment conditions necessary to maintain a high quality workforce in what is a labour intensive sector.

The proposals strengthen the role of airports as the “ground co-ordinator” with overall responsibility for the coordination of ground-handling services at an airport. They provide airports with a set of new tools to do this, for example, to require minimum quality standards to be respected by all ground-handlers at their airport. These measures will strengthen also the resilience of airports facing major disruptions.

On noise

The Commission proposals increase the transparency in the process of setting noise-related restrictions at airports, including an oversight role for the Commission. This is not about targets, but about the decision-making process. It gives the Commission a scrutiny role – it does not replace a Member State’s final decision. The proposals also update existing legislation in line with technological developments to make it easier for authorities to phase-out the noisiest planes.

Decisions on cutting noise levels have to balance protection for citizens living close to airports against the needs of those who wish to travel. Decisions must be taken in line with guidelines set at international level (by the UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation). Residents are entitled to be protected from excess noise from airports but it is necessary to take into account costs in terms of lost capacity and the impact on economic growth in a region.

Next steps

The Commission’s proposals must be approved by the European Parliament and Member State Governments by the “co-decision” procedure, before being adopted.

More information







European Commission’s “Better Airport’s” Package

(comments from John Stewart, for UECNA – (Union European Contre les Nuisances Aériennes)

This package is disappointing.  It does very little for residents.  Its main aim is to find ways to enable more planes to use Europe’s airports.

Its starting point is that “if no action it taken, by 2030 19 European airports will be operating at full capacity all day, every day, and an estimated 10% of demand will go unmet through lack of airport capacity”.

It, therefore, wants to find ways of making airports more efficient so that they can handle more planes.  The Commission has identified a number of ways in which this can be done:


At present it is quite difficult for airlines to sell slots.  This means that airlines often operate planes that are fairly empty simply to keep their slot.  The Commission is proposing to make it easier to sell slots to other airlines.


The Commission has found that 70% of flight delays are caused by problems on the ground, not in the air.  Therefore, it has come up with a number of proposals to make operations on the ground – known as ‘ground-handling’ – more efficient.

The Commission recognizes that, if these measures are effective, it will enable more planes to use Europe’s airports and that this will mean increased noise levels for residents.  Therefore, it is proposing some measures which would reduce noise:

  • It will make it easier for airports to phase out the noisiest aircraft
  • It is suggesting that the Commission is given a role to scrutinize noise procedures at airports. It wants to see consistency acrossEurope.  It wants to see decisions about noise taken in a transparent way, with residents properly informed.  It also wants decisions about noise to be based on factual evidence.  But it goes into very little detail about this.  And it stresses that the interests of residents must be ‘balanced’ against the interests of passengers and of the aviation industry.

The Commission is proposing that Directive 2002/30/EC be repealed and be replaced by the proposals in the “Better Airports” Package. This, though, would not form a new directive.  They would simply be rules and procedures.

Next Steps

The Commission’s proposals must be approved by the European Parliament and member state governments under what is known as the “co-decision” procedure, before being adopted.

How should we react?

These proposals to find ways to increase the number of planes using Europe’s airports are not in the interest of residents.  Nor will they help to reduce C02 (climate change) emissions.

The proposal about slots is very weak.  Slots could be the key to reducing the number of aircraft using busy airports.  If slots were auctioned, governments could control the number of slots available at an airport and could raise money from the auction.

The proposals specifically rule out noise targets for airports.

The proposal which may be useful to residents is the plan by the Commission to ensure that decisions about noise procedures at airports are taken in a transparent way, with residents properly informed.

What to do next

The only advantages for those affected by aircraft noise in these proposals are that it will a little easier for airports to phase out the very noisiest aircraft and that airports might be forced to consult with residents in a more open and transparent way.  But the proposals, as a whole, are not good for residents.  It is going to be difficult, though, to persuade most national governments or most Members of the European Parliament to reject them because the European Commission is “selling” them as improving efficiency.


EU unveils future plans for airports sector

4 December 2011
The European Commission has unveiled its “Better Airports” package, which is intended to boost capacity and reduce delays in the region.

According to the European Union (EU) executive, the measures are also aimed at increasing services for airlines and passenger through a series of measures affecting systems such as check-in, refuelling and baggage handling.

The Brussels-based body is also making changes to the transparency of decisions relating to airport noise and the network of take-off and landing slots.

“If business and the travelling public are to take best advantage of the air network, we have to act now,” said European commissioner for transport Siim Kallas.

In related news, chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement on Tuesday (November 19th) that billions of pounds of extra funding is being allocated to infrastructure projects in the UK and an examination will take place of ways in which the country’s “aviation hub status” can be maintained.


The report is called:

Airport policy in the European Union – addressing capacity and quality to promote
growth, connectivity and sustainable mobility

see also


This states that:

  • Europe’s airports are facing a capacity crunch. Air traffic in Europe will nearly double by 2030. Yet Europe will not be in a position to meet a large part of this demand due to a shortage of airport capacity.
  • Already today 5 major European airport hubs are at saturation – operating at full capacity: Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Milan Linate (Eurocontrol).
  • By 2030, on current trends 19 key European airports will be at saturation, including for example, Paris CDG, Warsaw, Athens, Vienna and Barcelona1. The resulting congestion could mean delays affecting 50% of all passenger and cargo flights (see detail in annex).
    • Airport capacity must be optimised. Also, noise restrictions must be proportional to the identified noise problem.
    • Quality and efficiency of services at airports must be improved. Today, 70% of all delays to flights are already caused by problems due to the turn around of aircrafts at airports (delays caused by airlines or their ground-handlers, airports or other parties involved in the turn around process)2.
    • The overall quality of ground-handling services has also not kept with evolving needs especially in terms of reliability and resilience, safety and security. Disruptions experienced have shown the need for increased coordination of ground operations for European airports and the network as a whole (knock-on effects) so as to ensure continuity of airport operations.

    The Airport Package

    To face these challenges, the European Commission has today adopted a policy document and three legislative proposals:

    • to help tackle a shortage of capacity at Europe’s airports;
    • to improve the quality and efficiency of ground-handling services; and
    • to improve the transparency of the decision making process on noise restrictions.

The Commission are looking for comments as at this stage they are only proposals from the Commission which “must be approved by the European Parliament and Member State Governments by the ‘co-decision’ procedure before being adopted’.  The Commision doesn’t, though, specifically say the proposal are out for public consultation.

and lots more at


Transport & Environment commented, on noise, that:

Its hard, when reading the proposal, not to form the impression that the
intention is to pay less attention to noise regulations and have them
better balanced against operations, capacity and employment effects (annex
II). However the Commission assured T&E this is not the intention.

Commission reasons;
– Little effective harmonisation across EU of existing national measures.
– Scrutiny powers being given to EC will facilitate harmonisation.
– Members states retain power to propose and decide measures; but then EC
can step in and ensure methodology/process etc
– Same applies when measures come up for 5 year review.
– Eurocontrol likely to be involved.
– This is a Regulation replacing a Directive.

Under this more benign interpretation, one can imagine that if an airport
is causing trouble and residents are dissatisfied with inadequate
measures, then they can trigger the 5 year review and lobby/ensure the EC
sees that a fair outcome results. 10db limit for removing marginal
aircraft is likely to worry Air Berlin and Iberia.