Peter Bombay holds a degree in law and philosophy and studied at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. He worked as a solicitor, as an academic assistant in international law and as a foreign policy adviser before joining the European Commission’s international environment unit in 1999. In 2002 he joined the European Commission’s Aviation Directorate, where he was chief negotiator for the European Common Aviation Agreement. From 2009 to 2012 he was the European Union’s representative to ICAO. From 2012 until 2018 he was deputy head of the European Commission’s Aviation Safety unit and chairman of the European Union Air Safety Committee. Since 2019 he has been senior advisor to the director for aviation of the European Commission, continuing also to serve as chairman of the EU’s Air Safety Committee. He is currently coordinating the EU’s actions in relation to the aviation aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted European aviation broadly and the business aviation sector specifically?
Airline passenger traffic in 2020 was down to 34% of 2019 levels. Eurocontrol estimates the 2020 net loss for the whole aviation sector could be 56,2B Euro. It is telling that the fact that business aviation has “only” lost 25% of traffic is seen as “a major success.”
Europe is not helped by the fact that its domestic aviation sector is relatively small, with not only international, but also intra-EU operations negatively affected by a lack of harmonization of travel-restriction rules. The European Commission is pushing hard to rectify this, but our Member States need to be convinced.
Most projections indicate it will take at least a few – possibly even more – years to get back to where we were, let alone to where we would have been without the COVID-19 crisis. And all of these projections indicate that business travel will be hit the hardest and longest.
Q: With Brexit now done, is there a need to evolve the EC’s aviation strategy to reflect the UK's departure?
Our aviation strategy is independent of our relations with the UK. It is designed to respond to future challenges, and those challenges are not directly affected by Brexit.
Regarding our relations with the UK, the EU policy in this respect was settled by the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. In the area of aviation safety, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement determines the scope of our cooperation with the UK. Although it is possible that its scope will be enlarged in the coming years, the agreement is currently restricted to cooperation in initial airworthiness and, in particular, to simplifying some of the aeronautical product design and manufacturing certification processes. However, it does not cover any mutual recognition as such, nor any aspects of aircraft operations. Thus, the agreement allows aircraft manufacturing and maintenance to continue, but does not in any manner replicate the old status of the UK as a Member State or the privileges it had as a member of the EU.
Q: Flights from America to Europe reflect a significant portion of annual traffic. Should U.S. operators expect any changes as a result of Brexit?
My answer would be “most probably not.” The agreement with the UK has no bearing on the rights enjoyed by American operators within the EU, but the departure from the UK might. Indeed, the exercise of those rights in the UK will no longer depend on our agreement with the U.S., but on the agreement between the UK and the U.S.
Q: Aligning European and U.S. strategies on aviation safety has been a successful collaboration for decades. Where do you see opportunities to reduce operator compliance burdens when flying between the EU and U.S.?
There is indeed a very successful aviation safety collaboration between Europe and the U.S. Cooperation today is mainly based on the Agreement on Cooperation in the Regulation of Civil Aviation Safety (BASA). While BASA already covered cooperation in the area of airworthiness certification and maintenance for aeronautical products, in November 2020 two new BASA annexes were signed on private pilot licenses and flight simulators.
On pilot licensing, the objective is to enable conversion of certain U.S. pilot licenses into EU Part-FCL licenses and ratings, and vice versa. It is expected that many European pilots will take advantage of these new provisions.
The BASA annex on flight simulation training devices will allow for the reciprocal acceptance of findings of compliance in recurrent evaluations and qualifications of EU- and U.S.-based full-flight simulators. This will generate savings, as operators of flight simulators will no longer be subject to multiple reevaluations.
Q: Can you share some of the EC’s priorities for aviation over the next several years?
The European Commission adopted in December 2020 its long-awaited Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, which created a blueprint for the future of transport and mobility in Europe. It encompasses all transport modes and thus contains the EU’s aviation strategy for years to come.
The three pillars around which this strategy is built are (1) sustainability (as transport needs to be part of the European Green Deal) (2) digitalization (as the best way to keep pace with technological development) and (3) resilience to major shocks, such as the one we are living now. These three pillars also are the rallying points for aviation. We need to become greener, we need to become better in the development and uptake of new technologies, and we need to become stronger.