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Beyond borders

Former Director General at the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) Simon McNamara speaks exclusively to Keith Mwanalushi about his time at the Association and the issues facing European regional aviation

A report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says year-on-year growth in international RPKs (revenue per passenger kilometre) flown by European airlines accelerated to 8.8% in 1H17, up from 4% from the same period in 2016. The stronger growth relates to a combination of the favourable comparison with the weaker traffic trend seen during 1H16 and increased momentum in the regional economic backdrop.


Certainly, regional European aviation is a contributing factor. After five years at the helm, McNamara recalls how ERA – and European aviation – have evolved over the past five years. “When I took over I think we were a little disconnected ... so we made the Association much more about our members. We increased our communication activity which has been a core bit of our success,” McNamara states. 


As a trade body, ERA began spending more time with its members to understand how they could help them and that in turn helped with the Association’s policy work. As a result of being much more connected to members, ERA was better able to represent their interests because they were able to understand the challenge members were facing every day – “I don’t think we were very good at that five years ago, and you could see it in the decline in members. When I took over we were heading downhill and one of the things I’m most proud of is that I leave an Association that is much stronger and healthier in all aspects – the team, membership and financially, than it was when I started.”


ERA’s members currently comprise 51 airlines and 140 affiliate members – including suppliers, airframes, engines, right down to individual consultants.


Despite leaving ERA for the role of Director of Communications at European carrier Flybe, McNamara is still a strong advocate of trade bodies and believes in their effectiveness.


“I very much believe in the power of lobbying for a collective group.


“Whether we like it or not, in Europe, business is still very much impacted by politicians and policy, from basic technical issues to the more politically driven policy issues such as passenger rights, all of which is dictated by politicians and regulators.” 


McNamara has always seen the ERA, and tried to position it as something that resembles an outsourced government affairs department for its member airlines. “If you go to the bigger airlines, they have dedicated government affairs resources – big teams dealing with that, most ERA airlines don’t – that’s what ERA does for them, they are outsourcing their strategic problems that will come up in three to five years’ time.”


He points out that ERA member airlines are relatively small, and their individual teams – whether they are safety teams or ops teams – are also quite small. “Through ERA they can meet with other similar airlines and find out what they are doing and share that information. It is a very important part of the work ERA does through the events that are run over the year.”


While looking at the development of regional aviation in Europe, McNamara takes a trip down memory lane to the late 1980s when Europe was first deregulated and the mid-1990s when the regionals were in their heyday.


“Back then the regionals were the sort of new pioneers, opening up new routes and independent brands,” McNamara says. He also recalls it being a very tough 15 year period for regionals from around 1995 to around 2005, as well as through to the late 2000s.


“It was a tough time,” he says. Competition was intense and inevitably led to several mergers and acquisitions. 


Both legacy airlines and the arrival of low cost carriers reacted – “Low cost carriers were the success stories across the 2000s and regional airlines had to adapt and change to stay ahead. We have seen that change with ERA members as well and now it’s hard to define what exactly a regional airline is.” >>

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