Montserrat Barriga (ERA): COVID-19 will have an effect on the competitive landscape of the European airline industry for years to come. | TravelDailyNews International
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Montserrat Barriga (ERA): COVID-19 will have an effect on the competitive landscape of the European airline industry for years to come.

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The topic this year of the next edition of the World Connect (Annual Airline Conference) organized by APG (26-28th October 2022, Malta) is: "How do airlines adapt in a changing world". This is the point of view of Montserrat Barriga, Director General - European Regions Airline Association) on this subject.

  • Can you introduce yourself and your company?

ERA (European Regions Airline Association) is the trade association representing more than 55 airlines and around 150 associate members, including manufacturers, airports, suppliers and aviation service providers, across the entire spectrum of the aviation industry. The power of one collective voice, representing multiple businesses, to promote and protect one industry sector is incredibly strong.

ERA works on behalf of its members to represent their interests before Europe’s major regulatory bodies, governments and legislators to encourage and develop long-term and sustainable growth for the sector and industry. The association also brings members together to exchange information and learn from each other through events, groups, meetings and forums. A major part of ERA’s role is to raise the profile and importance of its members, to champion green and sustainable air connectivity and European air transport. As Director General of ERA, I am responsible for the delivery and implementation of ERA’s strategy as well as leading the advocacy work of the association on policy and technical matters. Prior to my appointment at ERA – which began in November 2017 – I worked at ERA member airline Binter as Director of International Development and Industry Affairs, focussing on the airline’s regulatory needs and international development and in the past, headed up strategy development at Pullmantur Group, a group of companies consisting of a cruise line, tour operators, retail travel agencies and a charter airline.

  • How do you see the development of the global airline industry in the years to come after it has suffered potentially the worst crisis in its history?

COVID-19’s devastating effects on the aviation industry were felt around the world, but how airlines responded has not been ‘one size fits all’. Many of ERA’s airline members have very different business models, therefore whilst some have found opportunities during the global crisis – expanding their fleet, rebranding, and investing in new technology and sustainability – others were left with no other option but to rapidly reduce in size. Ensuring an airline and its fleet is right-sized is more important than ever before. Whilst it is expected COVID-19 will have an effect on the competitive landscape of the European airline industry for years to come, how it will look in a post-crisis-world is still unclear. What is clear, though, is that as the market begins to recover, fleet deployment will need to ensure high load factors in order to build operations without burning cash and spiralling into further liquidity traps. In cases where demand has dropped, airlines can look to introduce smaller aircraft which enable frequency to be maintained, or alternatively, right-sizing can mean an increase in frequency to optimise connections at major hubs. Either way, this offers customers greater choice which, in turn, enables higher fares and yields for point-to-point passengers. Nevertheless, it should be noted that regional aviation in Europe was not without its challenges prior to the pandemic. Over the past several years, competition in the sector was negatively impacted by a worrisome consolidation trend. Estimates show that five air carriers account for more than 50 per cent of the total European air traffic. Growth in size often through acquisition or absorption of assets of bankrupt air carriers has allowed those large airline groups to become dominant in certain markets. Should further consolidation be seen, heightened as a result of the pandemic, this would hurt the competitiveness and margins of those working independently who provide essential and flexible connectivity to passengers. Extensive consolidation is therefore a threat to consumer choice and protection. The current diversity is therefore needed, with smaller European carriers being more flexible to adopt changes, implement innovative technology needed for ensuring sustainability, customise their offers to passenger needs, connect remote regions to big hubs and contribute to local employment. “

  • The theme this year is: "How do airlines adapt in a changing world" What is your point of view on this subject?

The world is constantly changing, and the aviation industry is no different. For example, when the deregulated market came into force, Europe’s skies changed forever with the birth of low-cost carriers forcing existing carriers to change their own strategy in order to compete. This ability to adapt and evolve is central to success and will continue to be a necessity as we move into a new era of flying. Whilst the pandemic has not quelled passenger desire to travel, the passenger insists on a more sustainable air transport system operating to protect our planet’s future. It’s therefore essential that the future of sustainable flying is developed to meet the request of the passenger, as well as the 2050 targets set by the European Commission. The industry takes its responsibility towards sustainable aviation seriously and is working to minimise its impact on the environment as much as possible whilst continuing to deliver essential connectivity and travel opportunities to millions of people across Europe. Given the nature of regional aviation, characterised by short-haul flights, the regional sector lends itself to new, clean technologies and should, therefore, be the forerunner for testing and selecting the right technology needed to decarbonise the industry. Our members have embraced this full-heartedly with many leading the way in areas such as electric aircraft, hydrogen propulsion, improved air traffic management, sustainable aviation fuel use and much more.

  • What do you believe is/are the main reason(s) that draw people to the event?

APG events are absolute not-to-be-missed events. They are famous worldwide and undoubtedly one of the best of the global aviation events, gathering airlines from all over the globe. The standards of the conference sessions, topics covered are especially interesting when it comes to the commercial angle of the air traffic business, and the quality of the venues chosen, food, music, etc make these events unforgettable and a pleasure to be part of. I am very proud that APG is a member of ERA and Sandrine de Saint Sauveur (CEO APG) an active Board member of the association, we are thankful to her and her team.

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