The outcome of the meetings resulted only in an agreement to resume the dialogue before summer. “We will use this in order to discuss the whole range of issues that are creating challenges, including the implementation of the agreed principles. We will draft a report and present recommendations to the council on how to go forward,” Hololei reveals.
For AEA's Kahn, a new round of talks means “the overflights are still very much what they were and always have been, and a gloomy but probable outlook is that in the remainder of 2013 nothing is going to change.” He points out that the European airline industry “celebrated” the 20th anniversary of the Siberian overflight quandary a couple of months ago.
European airlines pay about €400 million ($511 million) a year for the right to use critical routings over Siberia to countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, according to the EC. The commission argues that the payments are neither cost-related nor transparent, and that the bulk of the money goes straight into the pockets of Russian airline Aeroflot. The EC contends that these payments and the relating provisions in the bilateral agreements with member states are in breach of EU antitrust laws and of the Chicago Convention on civil aviation. Also, the bilaterals impose different conditions on EU airlines depending on the country they are based in, creating an additional distortion of competition.
Games are being played on both sides: EU member states so far have continued to negotiate on a bilateral basis with Russia to safeguard the existing traffic rights and privileges of their national carriers. Hololei contends the EC would be in a stronger position to negotiate traffic right issues if the bloc's 27 member states would give it a mandate to negotiate a horizontal or comprehensive air services agreement.
The AEA sees some merit and justification in the commission's argument that Europe needs to speak with one voice, but insiders caution that the Russian authorities might not be willing to accept the EC as the sole negotiating partner. Russia has only recently recognized the EU designation—a requirement confirmed in a ruling of the European Court of Justice in 2002—and less than a handful of bilateral air services agreements (BAS) between EU countries and Russia have been adapted to include this EU-designation clause.
EU officials indicate that the European Commission might take the infringement procedures further to speed up this process. The EC has initiated infringement procedures against its member states over their BAS with Russia in 2010.
The commission believes it has leverage over Russia and during his meeting with Sokolov, Kallas emphasized that the existing Siberian overflight system is counter-productive for the development of Russia's aviation industry as well. Most of the payments go to Aeroflot and this deprives the government of desperately needed resources in air navigation equipment, which would be crucial to improve the functioning of Russia's overall air transport system. He also stressed that the “remarkable direct subsidization of Aeroflot” has a very negative impact on the development of other Russian air carriers and is extremely problematic from a competition policy perspective.
The commission is currently preparing a road map on EU–Russia aviation relations. The question of reciprocal treatment of Russian air carriers overflying EU territory is part of these deliberations.
Hololei insists there is no room for negotiations. “Russia has to implement the agreed principles, point over,” he says. He vows the EU will not allow a linkage of the Siberian overflight fees to any new Russian demand or desire, such as the certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency of the assembly line of the Sukhoi Superjet regional jet and the recently opened HeliVert assembly line of the AWJ139 helicopter in Tomilino, near Moscow.