EU Airline Chiefs Call on Politicians to Level Playing Field

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The chief executive officers of Europe’s five leading airlines, many of whom are fierce business rivals, met collectively for the first time Wednesday to push for an aviation strategy that they say is needed to drive growth and strengthen the sector.

The leaders of Air France KLM-Group, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and IAG SA, which are Europe’s biggest network operators, together with the CEOs of top discount specialists Ryanair Holdings Plc and EasyJet Plc, are seeking measures to boost efficiency, better regulate airports, pare taxes and prevent strikes by air traffic controllers, they said.

“We believe this is overdue,” Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said at a press conference in Brussels today. “Any Cessna pilot with an iPhone can fly a straight route, but we have to follow rules that date back to before any of us were born.”

The gathering, which Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary described as “historic,” marks the beginning of regular cooperation between the five airlines as they seek to use their combined clout to influence regulators. European Union Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, who took her post in November, is drawing up a package of proposed aviation measures to be published in the fall.

“We the airlines need to have our voice clearly heard and represented in that debate because it has been somewhat disparate in recent years,” O’Leary said.

U.S. Association

The carriers are exploring options for a new representative group, modeled on Airlines for America in the U.S., EasyJet’s Carolyn McCall said. The goal is to have the as-yet unnamed organization operating by October, McCall said. It will be open to additional European carriers and won’t impact membership in other organizations, she added.

The decision to create a new organization comes after British Airways parent IAG quit the Association of European Airlines, reflecting a wider rift between network operators about the expansion of Persian Gulf carriers. European airlines reckon that they have less local political support than competitors in areas like the Middle East, where state-coordinated aviation strategies have helped attract legions of passengers to what were once minor desert hubs.

“Single European skies is a fantastic initiative and should be progressed at a much a faster pace,” IAG CEO Willie Walsh said today.“The lack of a single European sky is in effect a disgrace.”

The executives said they are targeting issues they all agree on, rather than points where their views diverge.

“It’s not to suggest that we agree on every single issue, because clearly, we don’t,” O’Leary said. “But we do agree on a huge range of issues, which can transform I think if we speak with a united voice.”

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