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Event report

Wednesday 24 November

Hundreds of ERA members made their way to the cosmopolitan capital London this week for the eagerly-anticipated ERA Membership Conference.

Held at the Hilton London Paddington hotel in the heart of the capital, this important association event provided an opportunity for members to reunite, network, and discuss key issues affecting the industry and to reassess the situation since the outbreak of the virus.

Our industry in crisis

The event opened with a keynote speech from ERA President Jan Palmér, setting the scene of this event as the first time meeting face to face since the pandemic began. He said: “None of us could have expected what was to come… We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not out of the tunnel yet.”

This led to the first session, discussing industry concerns and how members can strive to maintain a path towards recovery. Chaired by Palmér, panellists included Jóhanna á Bergi, CEO, Atlantic Airways; Pat Byrne, Chairman, Cityjet and Pierre-Olivier Bandet, CEO, HOP!, as well as Henrik Morch, Director, DG COMP, European Commission who joined via video.

The panel began by discussing how the pandemic had affected their airlines, before Morch provided an overview of how DG COMP has supported airlines through the crisis through the provision of State aid and how this will now continue until June 2022.

He continued: “There are two challenges that we see for recovery, one is the greening of aviation, the other is connectivity. I rely on you as a community to tell us what is going on and following the crisis, if there is a connectivity gap. We need this data from your membership and others to determine if there will be a gap in the short-term that can be prevented.”

This led to discussions around PSO routes. Palmér added: “In many cases, we are hit a lot harder than the bigger guys and we have to fight against this all the time, with the support of ERA.” 

The future of European aviation

The second session of the day focussed on the landscape of European aviation over the next decade and beyond and discussed the future challenges facing our industry as it works to rebuild post-COVID-19.

Chaired by Gilles Feith, CEO, Luxair, he began by saying: “We will have a bright future, but we will have to work together to achieve it.”

Phil Seymour, President of ERA member IBA Group, then took to the podium to discuss the data on how we have been affected as an industry and some of the key themes moving forward. Jonathan Hinkles, CEO of Loganair, and Robert Sinclair, CEO of London City Airport both, then provided a presentation of how their organisations have responded to the pandemic.

Both turned to the subject of sustainability with Hinkles saying: “Flying isn’t the enemy, carbon is the enemy and we’ve all got a job to decarbonise.”

Sinclair added: “While we clearly have faced, and continue to face, some severely difficult challenges, I think we have an exciting future.”

Thursday 25 November

The ERA Membership Conference 2021 came to a close yesterday following two more fantastic conference sessions. The first session of the day, ‘Destination 2050 – A route to net zero European aviation’, saw ERA Director General Montserrat Barriga take the position of chair to talk to Thorsten Lange, EVP Renewable Aviation, Neste; Rod Williams, CCO, Universal Hydrogen; and Jérémy Caussade, President, AURA AERO.

Prefacing the session with an overview of Destination 2050 and our industry’s commitment to decarbonise, Barriga then introduced the speakers and their areas of focus.

As the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) refined from waste and residues, Neste’s Lange spoke about the benefits of SAF and the fact that this is a ‘now’ solution; available not in 30 years’ time or even three years’ time, but today. He said: “We have a massive challenge in front of us and a responsibility. It’s time to do something for the next generation and for the future of our planet.”

Whilst SAF may be seen as a ‘here’ solution, Williams was pleased to say hydrogen is a ‘near’ solution and highlighted the efforts Universal Hydrogen is taking to make this technology a reality. Presenting the architecture of hydrogen fuel storage and distribution, he spoke of how his company hopes to make this an easy and effective solution.

As part of Caussade’s presentation, he stressed that each of these solutions had a role to play, adding that his company was not trying to compete with the likes of SAF and hydrogen. Nonetheless he did go on to state that electric is the cheapest and easiest option in terms of maintenance.

Piloting a pandemic

For our final conference session, we heard from a selection of airline members about their pandemic journeys and how they have survived the global crisis. First at the podium was Vasiliki Christidi, Group General Manager, SKY express. She said: “We decided we shouldn’t not be ready for our future because of COVID” and as a result, the airline focussed on finding opportunities during the global crisis, expanding their fleet, rebranding, and investing in new technology and sustainability. She concluded: “The sky is not the limit, it’s a horizon”.

Next, TAP express operated by Portugália Airlines’ Managing Director, Valter Fernandes, shared that while his airline may not have blossomed quite like SKY express had over the past 20 months, he was proud of the way they had navigated the pandemic so far. He said: “We never stopped flying, we reduced, but never stopped as we had to maintain connectivity.” A big part of his presentation was focussed on the people of his organisation and the support provided for them throughout. This was emphasised by the airline’s priorities in 2022, which included maintaining team motivation.

Finally, Lars Jordahn, CEO, West Atlantic had another perspective – that of a cargo airline. He discussed how they were busier than they had ever been, but faced immense challenges in ensuring operations are performed well and, most importantly, safely. Moving crews in an out of some of the worst-affected areas in Europe was particularly hard according to Lars – even once cargo staff became classed as critical workers – with simple tasks such as feeding crew being a trial.

ERA’s Board continues to go from strength to strength

ERA’s official Annual General Meeting closed the event, highlighting essential information about the association’s operations, including budget, strategy and successes over the past 12 months.

The Board election results were then announced, sharing the news that two new airline members would be joining the Board this year, including Gilles Feith, CEO, Luxair and Vasiliki Christidi, General Manager, SKY express. Sandrine de Saint Sauveur, President and CEO of APG Airlines was equally re-elected and will remain on the Board for another three-year term.

Joining them are newly-elected manufacturer representatives Wouter van Wersch, EVP, President of Region and Sales – Europe, Airbus and Jérémy Caussade, CEO and Chief Engineer, AURA AERO, as well as Clemente Affinito, Vice President Sales EMEA, ATR who was re-elected once again, having joined the Board in 2015.

Overall, it’s safe to say that this was a fantastic opportunity to reunite face to face and ERA was pleased to bring its members #BackTogether.