Brussels, 19 April 2010
Press statement by Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport
Over the last two days, the European Commission, with the assistance of Eurocontrol, has been co-ordinating a series of intensive meetings with national aviation authorities, air traffic control services, the airlines, airports and scientists.
We are faced with an unprecedented shutdown of Europe’s airspace.
This situation not sustainable. It is now clear that we cannot just wait until this ash cloud dissipates.
The negotiations this weekend have had a very practical objective in mind: to see if additional European co-operation can facilitate solutions.
There are three key principles we are basing our work on:
1. there can be no compromise on safety;
2. the work must be based on scientific evidence;
3. we must facilite co-ordinated European solutions if we are to find a way forwards.
There are three main areas we are focusing on:
1. The most urgent task is to see if stronger European co-ordination of airspace management can maximise the airspace available without compromising safety.
From the experience of recent days, we have seen that fragmentation caused by a patchwork of different national decisions is limiting available airspace. This is not sustainable.
At this moment, the European Commission and Eurocontrol are co-chairing an extraordinary meeting in Brussels to try to deal with this issue.
The meeting brings together all Eurocontrol members, national civil aviation authorities, national air navigation providers, representatives of the airline and airport industry, as well as the Spanish Presidency.
The aim is to agree technical solutions for stronger European co-operation to maximise available airspace. These could be implemented by Eurocontrol immediately.
I will present the results of this meeting to European transport ministers at 15:00 this afternoon. I hope that this will provide ministers with the basis of an agreement on the way forwards.
2. We have started the work to address the economic consequences of this crisis.
I am leading a group of Commissioners to assess the impact of the situation created by the volcanic ash cloud on the air travel industry and the economy in general. I will be assisted by Vice-President Almunia (Competition and State Aid) and Commissioner Rehn (Economic and Monetary Affairs), and I will call on other Commissioners as necessary.
We need first to ensure that the EU has the right economic analysis to be able to respond appropriately to this crisis. And to ensure that any measures taken across the EU to respond to economic consequences of this situation are properly coordinated.
The work must move ahead quickly. The process of gathering the economic data on the effects of the crisis has begun this weekend. I met with representatives of European airlines and airports this morning. There will be meetings at cabinet level this evening and tomorrow to define how the process will move forwards.
3. The other main priority is passengers.
The best way to bring immediate relief to passengers is to free up more airspace.
We are working hard to agree technical solutions to do that today.
I want to remind passengers that, even in extraordinary circumstances, they have some of the strongest air passenger rights in the world.
The right to either reimbursement or re-routing — also by different modes;
The right to information — to be informed about their rights and the situation as it evolves;
The right to care — that means food, drink, and accommodation as appropriate.
In other words, despite these exceptional circumstances, air passengers are entitled to all their usual rights, except the additional financial compensation that would apply in more normal circumstances.
In practical terms, the first responsibility for re-routing and getting passengers home lies with the airline industry. No one can take that legal responsibility from their shoulders.
And it is national authorities who are legally responsible for overseeing and enforcing EU passengers rights at national level. My services are in daily contact with the network of national authorities to monitor the situation as it evolves.
But faced with this crisis situation, millions of European passengers stranded at airports are asking if for a Europe-wide crisis, there cannot be more Europe-wide solutions. The question is whether this is this enough.
We need to face up to those questions. People need answers. I will be asking transport ministers this evening whether they need any additional European coordination to facilitate solutions.
To conclude: this is an unprecedented and difficult situation. Faced with a crisis of this scale, I believe Europe must break new ground. We must intensify European coordination in order to facilitate:
opening up the maximum airspace possible, within safety requirements;
finding solutions for passengers and industries hit hard by this crisis.
I will meet with European ministers this afternoon at 15:00. I will keep you informed as the situation develops.