April 01, 2013
Credit: Joe Walker
The long-running feud over Siberian overflight charges for European carriers remains unresolved, and the European Union (EU) must unify its airlines around a common approach, while finding ways to pressure the Russian Federation to activate a deal that phases out these royalties.
Meanwhile, a potential new irritant has surfaced. On July 1 Russia plans to introduce new rules on Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. However, EU airlines are not allowed to submit passenger data to any non-EU country unless that country has an agreement with the EU guaranteeing a certain level of protection for the integrity and the secrecy of these data.
“As European airlines we cannot be caught in the middle of two or three contracting legal regimes,” says Athar Husain Khan, acting secretary general of the Association of European Airlines (AEA). There is a discussion going on between Europe, the International Civil Aviation Organization and Russia to clarify the content and the execution of the PNR data requirements. Also, the International Air Transport Association has expressed some concerns and warns that some of the provisions—such as the tracking of passengers overflying Russia, or the need to provide data not normally collected by global booking systems—will be extremely costly and time-consuming for the aviation industry to comply with.
The PNR issue was discussed on the “highest possible level” during meetings of the European Commission and Russian ministers last week in Moscow and it “was concluded that we should try to find a solution,” Henrik Hololei, head of the EC Cabinet of Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, tells Aviation Week. But he admits “for the moment it creates confusion for EU airlines. We don't have this data-sharing agreement with Russia, and the Russians will implement their new rules.”
With its novel PNR demand, Russia is once again maneuvering the EU into a corner. Russia outsmarted the bloc when it linked the Siberian overflight royalties and the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS).
The EU and Russia—in 2006—agreed in principle that new overflight rights issued to European airlines from January 2012 should be free of charge and legacy Siberian fees would be abolished from 2014. The agreement was fine-tuned in 2011 and was a precondition for the EU to give its green light to Russia's World Trade Organization accession. Russia however withheld the new “free of charge” rights in protest against the EU ETS.
An EU official described Russia's move to link the ETS and the agreed principals as “scandalous” and “not correct.” Kallas was equally forthright during last week's executive discussions in Moscow and in a bilateral meeting with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, when he stressed that it is “unacceptable” for Russia to establish this artificial link between two entirely separate issues. He urged his counterpart to respect the formal commitment on the phasing-out of Siberian overflight royalties.