Directors General address the resilience of the air transport sector to crisis at the annual ECAC Forum

Paris and videoconference, 14 December 2021 - The latest edition of the annual ECAC Forum of Directors General (FORUM/14) took place in Paris and by videoconference to consider the resilience of the air transport sector to crisis.

Forty-eight in-person and forty-five remote participants, representing 34 ECAC Member States, the European Commission, EUROCONTROL, ICAO, United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), IATA, ACI EUROPE, Airlines for Europe, Airbus, Groupe ADP and the European Transport Workers’ Federation, took part in the conference thanks to its hybrid format.

In the opening of the Forum, Donal Handley (EUROCONTROL) provided a series of updates and forecasts on air traffic in the European region. He also presented an analysis of the trends in the number of flights and movements, comparing data with the figures registered in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

This snapshot of the current air traffic situation set the scene for the next three sessions of the Forum, where participants discussed best practices and lessons learnt during the pandemic, and how the aviation sector could recover sustainably and build resilience for the future. The debates were facilitated and enhanced by input from guest speakers from the industry, Member States, the United States and the European Commission, as well as other European organisations.

The first session, moderated by Raúl Medina Caballero, Director General for Civil Aviation of Spain, and ECAC Focal Point for Facilitation, looked at facilitation as a key and strategic factor in the coordination of future crises. Aviation was highly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and decisions on related protection measures and travel restrictions were driven by public health authorities. The presenters shared experience of managing the balance between health imperatives and the needs of the sector, from the point of view of industry and regulators, including a view from the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration. The Forum agreed that a balanced approach between health imperatives and the economic needs of the aviation industry, and coordination and cooperation between the respective decision-makers are needed to enable the recovery of the sector.

Moderated by Damien Cazé, Director General of Civil Aviation, France, and ECAC Focal Point for Economic matters, the second session focused on labour demands and skills retention. It was highlighted that regulatory authorities need to attract and retain staff and expertise, and that the difficulties created in this respect by the pandemic would have lasting effects. Participants also discussed the changes to be expected in the future labour demands of the aviation sector.

The last session, moderated by Rannia Leontaridi, Director General for Civil Aviation, United Kingdom, and ECAC Focal Point for Environment, addressed innovation and sustainability in the aviation industry. Environmental concerns and passengers’ perception of the public health risks associated with air travel are the main challenges aviation faces today. The Forum discussed the regulatory and industry actions needed to ensure the aviation sector remains innovative and sustainable to meet consumer and environmental demands. The session concluded on the need for what was summarised in the acronym "IPAC": the image of the sector, partnership between all stakeholders, actions speaking louder than words and communication to showcase the efforts.

Closing the Forum, ECAC President Alessio Quaranta (DGCA Italy) underlined that the regulatory and industry actions need to ensure aviation remains innovative and sustainable in order to meet public expectations, while maintaining passengers’ confidence in air transport, and this through coordinated measures taken across the aviation sector.