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Commission approves €39.7 million Latvian measures to recapitalize Riga International Airport

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The European Commission has approved Latvian plans to grant up to €39.7 million for the recapitalisation of the State Joint Stock Company Riga International Airport (Riga International Airport). The measures, comprising a €35.2 million capital injection and €4.5m of waived dividend payment for the 2019 financial year, were approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. Riga International Airport suffered substantial losses due to the coronavirus outbreak and the travel restrictions that Latvia and other countries had to impose to limit the spread of the virus. These measures, together with the significant drop in travel demand, continue to deteriorate the financial situation of the company.

As a result, Riga International Airport currently risks not being able to maintain its viability, with severe consequences for the connectivity of Latvia with the rest of Europe and third countries. The Commission found that the recapitalisation measure notified by Latvia is in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. The Commission concluded that the recapitalisation measures are necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of the member states: the measure aims at restoring the financial position and liquidity of Riga International Airport in the exceptional situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while maintaining the necessary safeguards to limit competition distortions. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Airports are among the companies that have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus outbreak. With this measure, Latvia will contribute up to €39.7m to reinforce Riga International Airport's equity and support the company face the economic effects of the outbreak. At the same time, the state aid will come with strings attached to limit undue distortions of competition. We continue working closely with member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place in a coordinated and effective way, in line with EU rules.”

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The full press release is available online.

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Aviation/airlines

New EUROCONTROL 2021-2027 forecast expects traffic recovery to 2019 levels by the end of 2023

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Recovery to the 2019 number of flights in Europe could occur as early as 2023, according to a new forecast issued by EUROCONTROL. This forecast contains three scenarios and both the ‘baseline’ and ‘high’ scenarios show recovery to 2019 levels during the course of 2023, while this is delayed in the ‘low’ scenario until 2027. It updates and extends the forecast made in May 2021, before the summer season. Eamonn Brennan, Director General EUROCONTROL, commented “Last year we had only five million flights but this summer has been very encouraging, with traffic close to our previous ‘high’ scenario and to airline expectations. As a result we expect to see about 6.2 million flights this year – still 44% fewer than we had in 2019. We are optimistic about traffic recovering to 2019 levels earlier than anticipated, with the baseline scenario indicating 9.8 million flights in 2022, just 11% down on 2019. But we must be aware that there are still significant downside risks that could affect the recovery”. The High scenario envisages the vaccination campaign continuing both within Europe and globally, with reliable vaccines that continue to be effective, including against variants. With a coordinated inter-regional approach, travel restrictions are relaxed, with most inter-regional flows restarting by the middle of 2022. Business travel recovers quickly in this scenario. The Baseline scenario is similar but with flows outside Europe recovering rather more slowly (partly as the result of a lack of a coordinated inter-regional approach) and with business travel only recovering to pre-COVID levels in 2023. The Low scenario considers the impact of several downside risks, such as slow/patchy vaccination rates, the need for new vaccines as a result of variants, the reintroduction of lockdown and similar measures, the continuation or re-imposition of travel restrictions, economic risks, including high energy prices and a long term drop in people’s propensity to fly.   EUROCONTROL 7-Year Forecast
The traffic figures refer to the number of flights, including both passenger and cargo. Recent experience has been that the recovery in the number of passengers is lagging behind the increase in the number of flights. These scenarios were also used to revise and extend the monthly forecast produced in June 2021. This new monthly forecast shows a continuation of recent positive trends, in particular during the holiday period in December 2021.
EUROCONTROL 7-Year Forecast
For more information, please consult the website where you will find the forecast document, its region definition annex and a statistical table, which includes data by individual State.

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Consumer protection: Airlines commit to timely reimbursement after flight cancellations

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Following dialogues with the Commission and national consumer protection authorities, 16 major airlines have committed to better information and timely reimbursement of passengers in case of flight cancellations. The Commission had alerted the Consumer Protection Co-operation (CPC) enforcement authorities in December 2020 to address several airlines' cancellation and reimbursement practices in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “It is good news for consumers that airlines cooperated during the dialogues, and committed to respecting passengers' rights and improving their communication.” Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean added: “I welcome the fact that the bulk of the reimbursement backlog has been cleared and that all airlines concerned have committed to solve remaining issues. This is crucial to restoring passengers' confidence. The recovery of the air transport sector depends on this. This is why we are also currently assessing regulatory options to reinforce passenger protection against future crisis, as foreseen in our Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy.”

The CPC network will now close its dialogues with all airlines, but will continue to monitor whether commitments are correctly implemented. More information is available here.

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Technology take off for leading airline

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A leading airline is pioneering high-tech solutions to ensure passengers stay safe and healthy.

Emirates has tapped on its partnership with the UAE’s Aviation X-lab innovation incubator programme to pilot robot cleaning trials.

These are currently in use at its signature lounges at Dubai airport. The robots use special technology to eliminate most viruses and, according to a spokesman for the airline, “ensure a healthier environment.”

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The spokesman said, “All our bio-safety protocols are continually reviewed and updated in line with the latest medical guidance.”

Some of the efforts the airline has made to respond to the ongoing health pandemic were outlined at a press conference in Brussels by Emirates Belux country manager, Jean-Pierre Martin.

In addition to being one of the first airlines to roll-out PPEs (personal protection equipment) for its frontline employees back in February 2020, when COVID-19 vaccines became available, the company has also implemented a campaign to encourage employees to protect themselves and others.

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This has resulted in over 95% of all employees being fully vaccinated.

The airline has also been a forerunner in adopting digital verification solutions for travel, from adopting the IATA Travel Pass to partnering with the UAE health authorities to enable seamless digital checks for COVID-19 travel documentation.

These projects deliver multiple benefits from better customer experiences to the reduced use of paper, and improved efficiency and reliability in travel document checks.

Emirates was one of the first airlines to sign up for IATA’s Travel Pass in April and currently offers this convenience to customers fly between Dubai and 10 cities, with plans to expand the service across its network as IATA continues to expand and secure service providers in more markets. By October, the airline would have extended the implementation of IATA Travel Pass for customers at all of its destinations.

The spokesman added, “Throughout the past year, Emirates has worked closely with the authorities and its aviation partners to ensure the health and safety all travellers and employees at the airport, even as health protocols continually evolved across the world.”

“Even before the World Health Organisation officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic,we had already implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols at all our customer touchpoints at the airport and onboard. At the airport, we have installed protective shields at all check-in counters and implemented physical distancing in all areas.”

He said that teams on the ground collect and verify the latest entry requirements for each destination. The company’s COVID-19 info hub is also updated at least once daily, adding, “this has become one of the top authoritative sources of information for travellers.”

The company is also utilizing technology in other areas.

In 2019, the company began testing and implementing biometric technology at various customer journey touchpoints at the airport. In the past year, the airline fast-tracked its biometric technology roll-out and today, it has over 30 biometric cameras in active operation at its Dubai airport hub, including at check-in counters, at the entrances of its First and Business Class lounges, and select boarding gates.

Since implementation, over 58,000 customers have used this convenient, contactless and secure verification option to access its lounge, and more than 380,000 customers have used biometric gates to board their flight.

Its new self-service check-in and bag drop kiosks have seen increasing usage since its introduction in September 2020. In July and August alone, over 568,000 customers used this service which enabled them to skip queuing at the counter.

The company has also introduced new technology to make it easier for customers to report delayed or damaged bags.

Over the summer travel months of July and August,the airline handled nearly 1.2 million customers at its hub, compared to 402,000 customers during the same period in 2020, highlighting the safe and smooth resumption of international travel to and through Dubai. In fact, in 2020, it was the largest international airline carrying over 15.8 million passengers, according to IATA’s latest World Air Transport Statistics 2021.

Since Dubai re-opened to international visitors, Emirates has gradually restored its network and flight schedules from just a handful of cities in July 2020 to over 120 destinations today, with more flights to be layered onto more than 20 Emirates routes by October.

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