If LLC’s (low cost carriers) in Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia had their way, they’d enjoy the flexibility of initiating flights to and from the islands that would connect with LCC hubs spread across Italy. From the LCC’s point-of-view, such flights would not only benefit the airlines; but would also benefit consumers, and in the bigger scheme of thing benefit tourism: more flights, more passengers, more reason to travel and more profits. Everyone goes home a winner.
Achieving those goals seems easy enough: the number of available flights to and from Sicily, Sardinia and Lampadusa is strictly regulated by ENAC (Ente Nazionale per L’Aviazione Civil) the civilian aviation air regulatory commission for Italy. Since 1997, ENAC has created a set of ground rules that govern how airlines conduct themselves and where they can fly. ENAC’s position covers a lot of ground, and they’ve been proactive on many levels regarding the airline industry, for example identifying LCC and legacy airlines that don’t meet its stringent safety standards for aircraft and passengers.
However, in the eyes of many LCC’s, ENAC has also taken steps that seem to limit the growth of Low Cost Carriers; particularly in the south. Consider the recent frustrations of RyanAir – unquestionably the LCC heavyweight throughout Europe – which is currently fighting an ENAC decision regarding air service in and out of Sardinia. RyanAir has written to the European Commission over what it termed the “abuse of regulations” governing Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes by the Italian Aviation Authority. It contacted the Commission following the announcement that Alitalia would be allowed to fly on a PSO route which, according to Ryanair, it did not apply for when initially offered to carriers.
Following allegations by Ryanair in May that the Italian Civil Aviation Authority blocked Ryanair and Easyjet from offering low fares, competition and choice to consumers wishing to travel between mainland Italy and Sardinia, the European Commission launched an investigation into the application of PSO rules in Italy.
While that’s a matter for the courts to decide, ENAC Director General Silvano Manera adds that, “…ENAC rules are impartial toward low-cost and legacy carriers. Evaluation parameters are identical for all carriers. A certified EC carrier with an operating licence issued according to EC Regulation 2407/92 and meeting all technical, operational, insurance and safety requirements is apt to operate, on the national territory, on all routes not subject to restrictions. The possibility to operate under a PSO regime is open to all carriers, which have to comply with the indicated maximum fares, the commitment to operate all year round, a minimum number of links and flight schedule which has to be tailored to the users’ needs.”
The challenge then may be to work within ENAC’s established perimeters. WindJet Airlines – by far the most profitable Italian LCC in the South refers to this issue as one of “territoriality”. Remarks Windjet’s Commercial Director Mr. Massimo Polimeni … “…In Sicily, there are no real travel restrictions per se, except those related to connections to the major islands and the minor islands (for example Pantelleria and Lampedusa). In Sardenga, there is a regulation that refers to “territorial continuity” which means that only airlines which fall under the authority of ENAC have access to the airspace. This pretty much spells out which companies are permitted to fly from the mainland to the islands and vice-versa. Obviously this creates an enormous limitation on the number of independent low-cost airlines which can operate, but that’s the way it is…”
WindJet has found a way to work within these guidelines while at the same time demonstrating unparalleled growth in the marketplace. Not all LCC’s have been so successful. The discussion of “territorial continuity” was the topic of discussion in a recent ENAC general assembly meeting that addressed whether AirOne and Meridiana could increase the number of flights they offer from Sardegna during peak holiday and vacation periods.
Remarked Manera, “…The Minister of Transports, according to EC Regulation 2408/92, has levied public service fares on certain routes to/from Sardinia, with the aim to guarantee territorial continuity with the Peninsula. All EC air carriers owning an operating licence as per EC Regulation 2407/92, regardless of their being low cost or legacy, can conform to the public service fares or, should no carrier accept, present their offer for the public tender, for the entrustment of operations under a public services regime. The PSO (Public Service Obligation) routes are subject to restrictions and can only be operated by the carrier/s which has/have accepted the conditions imposed by Ministerial Decree or, on an exclusive basis, by the carrier which won the public tender for the operation of services under a PSO regime. I take this opportunity to remind that Enac is the enforcing Authority of rules set forth by a Joint Services Conference, convened by the President of the Region Sardinia on the authority of the Minister of Transports. It is Sardinia itself which deems it a priority to safeguard mobility as well as territorial continuity needs of its residents…”
Regarding the increase of flights, ENAC president Vito Riggio remarked that such an augmentation was possible if it involved code-sharing with other LCC’s – that is – booking passengers from other airlines. A decision is pending.
The relationship between LCC’s and ENAC is either challenging or strained depending on one’s point of view. LCC’s remain committed to their goals: striving to offer low prices while at the same time remaining competitive in an ever-growing marketplace. ENAC – likewise – remains loyal to it’s charter as well, which is concerned with, “…enforcing European and national standards in Italy, adopting an impartial stance, regardless of an airline’s status as low-cost or legacy, with a view to catering to the needs of the users, of airport managers and all the operators of the civil aviation system and taking into account, primarily, the safety safeguard and passengers’ rights…”