IATA sets an “agenda for freedom”

The International Air Transport Association this weekend held an “Agenda for Freedom Summit” in Istanbul, Turkey, involving 14 nations and the European Commission.
The summit follows IATA statistics released last week that the global air transport industry fell further into the doldrums of the world financial crisis in September.
The summit, called earlier this year at a time of sky-high fuel prices, now had to deal with falling passenger and cargo traffic as the effects of an economic slowdown hits home.  
IATA`s pugnacious director general and CEO, Giovanni Bisignani, says the goal of the Agenda for Freedom Summit was to find ways to expand the commercial freedoms of airlines, namely access to markets and to global capital.
The meeting did not set out to sign any agreements or declarations.
“This has been an extra-ordinary year for airlines. From oil prices that peaked at US$147 in July, to today`s global financial crisis, the need for airlines to have the commercial tools that other industries take for granted has never been more critical,” Bisignani said afterwards.
“The conference was a success. The states had a very frank and open discussion on ownership and market access. We had gathered 15 of the most liberal players in aviation policy and three key outcomes emerged.
“The participants asked IATA to continue to facilitate this discussion with a second meeting in early 2009 to turn the discussion into action. They also asked IATA to facilitate the development of a multi-lateral statement of policy that would be a powerful tool expressing the common thinking and approach of the group of states.
“Finally, the group agreed to spread best practices in liberalisation by making more openly available to all states the most liberal agreements that are being negotiated,” said Bisignani.

The IATA CEO also emphasised the need for states to act with urgency. “Look at what happened to the banking system. In a week it became a state enterprise in many countries.

“We have already seen the re-nationalisation of Aerolineas Argentinas. This is not the solution that we want. We are not asking for bailouts or more government involvement in our business. Governments have a critical role in regulating safety, security, monopolies and environmental standards. What we were asking for this weekend was simply the ability to act like any other global business,” he added.
“The industry is in crisis and the message for change is critical. I believe that our message resonated with governments. We have started a process that I am confident will help to build a more stable financial future the air transport industry.”

The Agenda for Freedom Summit was a follow-up to the Istanbul Declaration, signed earlier this year by IATA`s 230 member airlines, which, among other things, called for expanded commercial freedoms.

September figures 
Meanwhile, IATA`s global international traffic results for September paint a grim picture. The organisation says passenger traffic declined 2.9% while cargo traffic dropped 7.7% compared to the same month in 2007. International load factors tumbled by 4.4% percentage points from August to 74.8% in September.
“The deterioration in traffic is alarmingly fast-paced and widespread. We have not seen such a decline in passenger traffic since [the] SARS [bird flu epidemic] in 2003,” said Bisignani in response.
“Even the good news that the oil price has fallen to half its July peak is not enough to offset the impact of the drop in demand.  At this rate, losses may be even deeper than our forecast US$5.2 billion for this year.”