March 21, 2013
European Commission VP and Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas is hoping talks today in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Maxim Sokolov, will end a long-running feud on Siberian overflight charges paid by European carriers.
Sources close to the talks say the Russian authorities might link the abolishment of the Siberian overflight fees for European Union (EU) operators to certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) of the Sukhoi Superjet’s assembly line and the recently opened HeliVert assembly line of the AWJ139 helicopter in Tomilino, near Moscow. However, such a tactic is unacceptable to the EC.
“There will be no linking to whatever,” Henrik Hololei, head of Cabinet for Commissioner Kallas ,tells Aviation Week. “Our position is straightforward: it is totally unacceptable that Russia has not implemented and phased in the agreement between the European Commission and the Russian government on the Siberian overflight payments. The implementation of this agreement is the corner stone of our aviation relations with the Russian Federation.
“Russia’s decision not fulfill its commitment under the agreed principles has overshadowed our relations,” adds Hololei.
Russia, as a condition of the EU’s support for joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), had agreed in principle that all new overflight rights issued to European airlines from January 2012 should be free of charges, and that all legacy fees be abolished from January 2014. Russia, however, reacting to the inclusion of its airlines in the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), continues to enforce the overflight charges.
“The Russian authorities have been quite innovative in linking the Siberian overflight rights to different issues. The inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS was already regulation when we supported Russia’s accession to the WTO. I suspect they now will try to link it to a permanent derogation of the country of the ETS,” says Hololei.
European airlines currently pay €300-400 million ($390-$515 million) a year for the right to fly over Siberia, according to the EC, although Hololei says 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 and comprehensive air services agreement.
Member states so far have preferred to negotiate on a bilateral basis with Russia to safeguard the existing traffic rights of their national airlines, although Hololei sees a change in this stance. The Association of European Airlines, which represents Europe’s network carriers, last week called on the EC and Kallas to take a firm stand on the Siberian overflights issue.
“The potential for cooperation is enormous if we would have a more liberalized agreement and behave as good neighbors. Areas of cooperation include, among other, safety, air traffic management, airport infrastructure and biofuels,” says Hololei.