As the only transport mode that can ensure rapid connections over vast distances, aviation plays an important role in connecting remote areas to the centres of economic activity. Maintaining such connections, however, can be challenging. With deregulation of the aviation sector over the past two decades, numerous domestic routes have become unsustainable due to their low profitability. In many ITF countries, governments have stepped in and launched programmes supporting domestic air connections, many of them significant in terms of both their costs and scope.
With its export-oriented economy, e.g. its time-sensitive salmon industry, and with a large share of population living in remote areas, Norway’s economy and society are largely dependent on air connectivity. Allan Ellingsen, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications, stressed the importance of preserving air links to remote communities through the EU-regulated Norwegian Public Service Obligations (PSOs) system that currently supports connections to some 30 local airports.
When supporting remote connections, governments need to apply strict criteria to their support schemes and consider competition impacts of any prospective measures, said Silvia Gehrer, ICAO , Regional Director, ICAO European and North Atlantic (EUR/NAT) Office. The ICAO EUR/NAT Office assists 56 states including European, Maghreb and Central Asian States in ensuring uniformity in regulations, standards, procedures and organisation of air services to ensure safety, security and interoperability.
There are numerous communities in rural and remote areas of Canada that struggle with frequency and affordability of air services. In Canada, although no federal support is provided for domestic air connections (except for targeted individual subsidies for health care visits), northern communities have been successful in managing their own airlines and airports. Deputy Minister Michael Keenan, Transport Canada, talked about the challenges of maintaining remote connectivity, stressing the importance of recruiting more pilots from aboriginal communities in the north as currently only 3% of pilots in Canada come from these.
Adefunke Adeyemi, Regional Director of Advocacy and Strategic Relations for Africa at IATA, stressed that multimodal, integrated, innovative, and sustainable transport solutions are critical elements for development and socio-economic growth, particularly in the African context. Currently, only 98 million out of 1.2 billion people in Africa travel by air. A single African market for aviation, a flagship project of the African Union Commission, could help reap benefits for the African continent, including job creation and access to quality health care and education.
Looking toward the future of air connectivity, Marc Hamy, Vice President at Airbus SAS, raised the question of rapidly-growing demand for air transport in light of the need to make the sector environmentally sustainable. While fuel efficiency has increased by 80% since the 1960s, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation have been rapidly rising, with traffic numbers doubling every 15 years. Airbus is currently testing new technologies, such as electric aircraft, to bring new solutions to the market.
While a lot still needs to be done to reach the IATA industry target of reducing total emissions by 50% by 2050 relative to 2005 levels, speakers agreed that the industry has delivered a lot of progress with respect to limiting its environmental footprint. More effort, however, was needed to engage with stakeholders from beyond the aviation sector to help deliver the CO2 reduction targets, while maintaining air connectivity that the society will need in the future.