Five European airlines launch new alliance

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Amsterdam (AFP)

In an unprecedented step, Europe's five largest airline groups including budget carriers EasyJet and Ryanair Wednesday launched a new alliance to combat rising airport charges amid a fierce battle with Gulf rivals.

The new association dubbed Airlines for Europe (A4E) brings together the budget airlines with giants Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and the International Airline Group, parent company of both British Airways and Iberia.

The alliance will "represent the interests of its members when dealing with the EU institutions, international organisations and national governments on European aviation issues," it said in a statement at the launch at Amsterdam's Schipol airport.

In their first act, the five managing directors of the member airlines called for swift steps to stop European travellers being "fleeced by excessive airport charges" and for the removal of "unreasonable taxes".

"Six months ago we got together to agree that Europe needs a loud and unified and clear voice to represent the airline industry in order to bring changes to the EU aviation framework," Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, told a press conference at Schipol.

The new association will "support and create jobs and support the interest of aviation in Europe," he said.

European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc welcomed the move, saying: "Not only do we want a very strong internal (aviation) market... but we also want to ensure that European aviation stays a leading force in shaping global aviation."

The alliance said it is demanding "a significant reduction" in the charges which are "paid by hundreds of millions of EU travellers."

Citing a recent study, it revealed that airport charges at the largest 21 European airports had soared by 80 percent since 2005 even as the average price of airline tickets has fallen by about 20 percent.

"At the 10 largest airports the increase was even greater, close to 90 percent," they said in a statement.

"These increases mean that passengers have had to pay an extra 5.4 billion euros ($6.11 billion) in airport charges over the last 10 years."

They urged the "EU to take action lowering the cost of the EU’s airports by ensuring that monopoly airports are effectively regulated."

The launch of the new association comes on the eve of an EU Aviation Summit, being hosted by the Netherlands as part of its six-month presidency of the European Union.

It also follows European allegations that their Gulf rivals enjoy a competitive edge due to what they say is unfair financing from their energy-rich, deep-pocketed state owners.

The new alliance also intends to push for a more reliable airspace by reducing the costs of air traffic control through the completion of the Single European Sky plan.

The aim of the project launched in the late 1990s is to make European skies more competitive, secure and environmentally friendly by eliminating national borders.