Each year the Association of European Airlines (AEA) brings together the leaders of its member airlines to discuss major issues facing the aviation industry.

Last week, given NATS’ role as a strategic partner of AEA, Andy Shand, General Manager of Customer Affairs and I attended their 2014 Leadership Summit.

The Summit was held in Istanbul, an appropriate location given that recent growth in Turkey’s aviation industry has far outstripped growth in the core of Europe. Turkey’s share of air passengers increased to 2.4% globally and to 8.7% in Europe in 2013 and the event was hosted by Turkish Airlines, who themselves have seen a 20% growth in 2014 alone.

Political support for aviation in Turkey is plain for all to see. The meeting was addressed by the Turkish transport minister, Lütfi Elvan, who stressed the importance of the aviation sector to the country. As well as highlighting growing passenger figures and sector turnover, the Minister discussed their plans for growth; a third airport for Istanbul is scheduled to open in 2017, with an opening capacity of 80m passengers per year, increasing to 150m per year in subsequent years.


However, Istanbul airports are not the only focus; Mr Elvan also described how they believe everyone within Turkey should be within 100km of an airport allowing them to travel widely within and outside Turkey.   The premise behind this was clear – Turkey sees a successful aviation industry as absolutely vital to its wider economic success.

The question was asked whether Europe views aviation in the same way? Do we in Europe, and the decision-makers who determine aviation policy within Europe – both at a regional and national level – truly appreciate the value that air transport delivers into the wider economy? I’m sure if asked, their response would be ‘yes’, and the politicians responsible for making decisions about capacity have a difficult job – we need to grow our capacity and we need to do so sustainably. But do we really appreciate the true value of the industry to Europe’s economy?

Athar Hussein Khan, CEO of AEA, highlighted that aviation supports 11.7 million jobs in Europe, equating to 1 person in every 40 people employed, generating 452 billion Euro per annum for European GDP; a success story that is rarely heard and is little understood by politicians and the general public alike.


Yet as an aviation industry we need to unite to ensure this message is heard. China is building huge numbers of airports and if they cannot get slots into Europe they will take their trade elsewhere. Other regions are striving to take business away from Europe. One trade association from outside of Europe even asked for Europe to continue to take its time addressing capacity issues as it suits them just fine!

One of the main actions agreed at the conference was the need to get the whole European aviation industry together to promote the benefit to society that aviation brings. We in the aviation industry don’t always look at things in their whole; we can all be guilty of looking at issues solely from the perspective of an air navigation service provider, an airport, an airline. However, as was recognised at the Summit in Istanbul, we need to overcome this.

The aviation industry has been a success story for Europe in the past; now, in the light of emerging challenges and changing landscapes, we need to work together to ensure it is at the heart of Europe’s future success.


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