New European airline lobby group targets strikes, airport fees

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A new European airline association launched on Wednesday wants the European Union to reform its regulations to bring down the cost of using airports in the region and to tackle air traffic control strikes that typically occur each summer.

Airlines for Europe, or A4E, was founded by Europe's five largest carriers IAG ICAG.L, Air France-KLM AIRF.PA, easyJet EZJ.L, Lufthansa LHAG.DE and Ryanair RYA.I, bringing together Europe's full-service and low-cost carriers together for the first time.

It was formed after British Airways (BA) owner IAG left the main lobby group for full-service airlines, the Association of European Airlines, over what it saw as its ineffectiveness.

It hopes its combined clout will force the European Commission into action this year, especially on the issue of air traffic control strikes. Michael O’Leary said rules should be drawn up to force disputing parties into arbitration before strike action, and that existing technology should be used to keep overflights running even if strikes do occur.

On airport charges, the association said a new study showed charges at the largest 21 European airports have increased 80 percent since 2005, with a 90 percent rise at the 10 biggest.

That compares with a 20 percent drop in ticket prices over the same period, according to data from international industry body IATA.

“We can’t have a situation where airport charges, not just outstrip but way outstrip inflation,” IAG CEO Willie Walsh told journalists in Amsterdam.

Airport association ACI Europe rejected the call for more regulation.

“This is frankly hard to stomach given how passengers now need to pay additional fees for things that used to be included in air fares, such as assigned seating, food and beverage, credit card fees and so on - now no longer categorised as part of the basic air fare,” ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec said.

A4E’s agenda does not include the issue of fast-expanding Gulf carriers, given differing views on the subject amongst the founder members.

Transport politicians and aviation executives will on Thursday come together in Amsterdam to discuss the proposals made under the EU aviation package.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; editing by David Clarke and David Evans