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Editorial comment: Return to growth threatened by misplaced government perceptions
Last year business aviation returned to its position as the fastest growing sector after the low cost carriers, contributing strongly to the overall growth in European air traffic activity.

Last year business aviation returned to its position as the fastest growing sector after the low cost carriers, contributing strongly to the overall growth in European air traffic activity. Bouncing back from 2009 with an increase of 5.5%, our sector also demonstrated resilience in the face of the unexpected during the ash crisis, where we were the least affected market segment. Overall, business aviation's share of IFR flights in Europe climbed from 6.9% in 2009 to 7.3% in 2010. Large business jets were busiest, but for the first time the fastest-growing seat class was the small six-seater jets, including VLJs. But we must be realistic that with economies continuing to be challenged, we cannot expect a rapid return to 2007 activity levels.

Nonetheless, this recovery is reflected in our own business. EBACE looks set for a very good year, with exhibitor numbers, booth spaces and hotel bookings all well up on 2010. Indeed, reserved booth spaces are already the highest number ever. Meanwhile at our AGM in March we were able to report that our membership had reached a new record at over 480 members from 62 countries. At the same time we are enhancing membership value, ranging from raising our sector's profile and credibility with European officials, to giving direct support to our members with safety tools and by influencing the rule making and regulatory processes to reflect the needs of our sector.

One such success was our gaining EASA recognition of the need for specific FTL rules for business aviation. We were also delighted with the many favourable comments we received after our Vienna regional forum, from which we are now taking forward the agreed actions. We are active, too, in SESAR where we have now brought helicopter interests into the EBAA consortium to ensure their needs are not overlooked.

Far less encouraging was the recently issued consultation by the UK government proposing to impose very high rates of new Air Passenger Duty on the business aviation sector. Especially unfair is that the consultation proposes a flat fee at the highest standard rate on each business aircraft passenger, regardless of the distance to be flown. Because business aviation representatives were omitted from the initial consultations, it seems that UK officials have a very poor understanding of business aviation's purpose, value (as recognised by the European Parliament and Commission) and exceptionally good environmental performance, including our formal commitment to continuous improvement.

However, now that the consultation is in its second, formal phase, EBAA is working in close collaboration with the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) and the British Helicopter Association (BHA), to open a dialogue with the UK government better to explain the role of business aviation in connecting communities and businesses not served by the airlines. We will also seek to explain a notable difference from the airlines, in that we will have to buy virtually all our ETS carbon offsets, thereby already meeting our "responsibility for preserving the global environment", a key stated goal of the new tax.  

So, as we approach EBACE 2011, our sector is on the return to health, but there are some serious threats out there that we in EBAA must continue to address convincingly and effectively if we are to ensure that the operating environment in Europe remains fair and affordable to members. By Brian Humphries, president?European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).