Regional aviation stands at a crossroads between innovation and the political and public pressure to reduce flights, the sector’s trade body has warned.
Concern has been raised by announcements throughout Europe on the banning of short-haul routes in order to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.
The regional airline sector is now having to justify its very purpose of existence – providing connectivity, according to the European Regions Airline Association (ERA).
The association argued that building new rail infrastructure and networks has “significant CO2 impacts” and is an environmental, financial and time-consuming exercise.
“Aviation is already advanced in its development of breakthrough technologies with limited to zero environmental impacts, and will be ready to integrate these into the market within a much shorter timeframe than it will take to build a new rail network,” the ERA added.
“ERA airline members connect parts of Europe where air transport is both vital and often the only mode of transportation available to inhabitants in remote regions, islands and dispersed areas,” the association said.
“Further to this, the short-haul segment is creating the necessary push towards the decarbonisation of the sector, providing the testing ground for new technologies that will enable the green transition to a more sustainable industry.”
Electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft are expected to be made available first on short-haul routes by 2035 and then on longer routes beyond 2050.
“It is therefore important that the EU and member states focus on solutions that can actually provide CO2 reductions, and not hinder the progress with initiatives like banning short-haul routes,” the ERA said.
Improving air traffic management through proper implementation of the Single European Sky (SES) would lower CO2 emissions of intra-EU flights by up to 10%, it suggested.
Director general Montserrat Barriga said: “Banning air routes is dangerous as it may be seen as good for the environment, but in reality, it is not for many reasons.
“Firstly, routes with the equivalent alternative route by train are very few and in most cases the rail network already has the market share anyway.
“Secondly, the initiative may result in an increase in passengers electing to use their cars to reach their destination.
“Thirdly, a lot of regional airlines operate routes with thin traffic, so it is unlikely that rail networks will replace sectors that are wholly unprofitable.
“Lastly, short-haul will be the first sector to test and deploy green technologies.
“It is therefore simply not effective to reduce CO2 emissions by banning short-haul routes and it creates a sentiment against aviation amongst the public.
“It is important that the EU and member states focus on solutions that can actually provide CO2 reductions, and not hinder the progress and potential of them with this type of initiative.
“Our industry takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and will do what is necessary to achieve its targets, but we cannot do it alone. We need a supportive policy framework to reach decarbonisation.”