Cheaper European air fares are just a delusion. Despite recent hopes that tomorrow's world will see cuts in prices, the reality is that there are too many factors against this, says Marcel Pisters, deputy secretary general of the Association of European Airlines (AEA). The EC, says Pisters, may sweep away regulatory barriers to new airline competition, but serious structural ones remain. Firstly, there are the high costs that all operators face. "For one thing there is no integrated air traffic control, and this causes delays, which adds to fuel costs. It also means you need to have spare aircraft to fill a take-off slot in case a plane is delayed at its last stop." The AEA estimates that in any one day 2,600 aircraft in Europe suffer delays. In 1991 this meant the loss of 116,000 operating hours to airline companies - a 9% rise in just one year. "Also, everywhere you look taxes are being put on airlines. It seems to me that throughout Europe it is very difficult, if not impossible, for any airline to reduce fares." The second problem is a serious shortage of landing and take-off capacity at many large airports. Seven of Europe's airports, including London's Heathrow, are already at saturation point. By 2000 this figure will more than double. The incentive is there to build extra runways, but even this is being frustrated - by the environmental lobby more than by a lack of finance.
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