Night flight bans have been abolished, so have old slot dogmas, and trucking is now permitted even on Sundays and public holidays. This is the political response to an uprising public call to readjust the European industrial landscape following the coronavirus spread to safeguard the fast and efficient supplies of medical equipment, medicines and hygiene products at all times in sufficient quantities. It seems that the time after corona will not be the same anymore.
Munich Airport has annulled the curfew imposed on night operations, allowing freighters and passenger aircraft carrying cargo but no people to land or depart 24/7. The step comes amid discussions
advocating the unconditional supply of vital goods such as breathing masks, hygiene products, and pharmaceuticals “during nighttime for all cargo flights in connection with ‘corona protection
and auxiliary’ supplies,” the MUC management announced.
Other airports might follow suit should the virus continue to spread, further disrupting supply chains.
A step indicated by Berlin’s minister of transport, Andreas Scheuer, who told the media that he favors 24/7 ops of major airports to secure the steady flow of vital goods by air. A sharp turn in the country’s policy to date. Simultaneously, the Berlin government skipped the prescribed driving times allowing logistics companies to run their trucks 24/7.
Literally next door, in the Netherlands, the local 80/20 rule on AMS Schiphol’s slot management was lifted at least until the summer, enabling more freighter operations to tackle transportation bottlenecks during the coronavirus crisis. The 80/20 scheme stipulates that a granted slot must be utilized at least 80 percent six days per week, if not, the carrier risks losing its allocated traffic right.
High public acceptance of the measures
Miraculously, there have so far been few public objections to the operational changes. Residents near airports, otherwise the loudest opponents of night flights, remain surprisingly silent these days.
In times like these, it is of paramount importance to maintain the basic logistical services, says the influential traffic association ‘Deutsches Verkehrsforum’ (German traffic forum). The organization demands that the European borders remain open, to ensure the constant flow of vital goods including urgently needed spare parts, tools and machinery. This applies for commuters and workers in the mobility sector as well, who are defined as key personnel to keep the economy running.
In the meantime, discussion is gaining momentum what conclusions to draw from the crisis once it is over. Back to normal is no option as first important trends are already emerging, such as the relocation of strategically important goods and life science products from abroad, mainly China and India, to Europe.
Meanwhile, the wind has turned. Main driver of basic economic reforms is French President Manuel Macron. His point: Corona has evidenced the strong dependency of European societies on the constant supply of health commodities produced in China or pharmaceuticals coming from India. “Bottlenecks showed that we ought to bring parts of this production back to Europe and to guarantee our society basic medical care at all times,” he said. In addition, he advocated storing enough quantities of vital goods within the EU at all times, regardless of the higher costs, compared to price conditions in East or Southeast Asia. “It is not primarily a question of money, but how we can best protect our own people and interests,” he said.
Leading German Social Democrats, such as health expert and Member of Parliament Karl Lauterbach, have supported his arguments. Lauterbach is calling for the establishment of a national procurement authority responsible for purchasing and storing critical goods, in order to prevent supply bottlenecks in the event of pandemics such as the current Convid-19 crisis.
Berlin's Health Minister Jens Spahn of the Christian Democrats, like Macron, strongly advocated to relocate the production of critical goods from Asia back to the EU to minimize external dependencies and not become victim of speculation, as evidenced by the sudden price hike of respiratory masks from 45 eurocents last February to over 13 euros per single piece today.
Macron’s plans indicate a tentative U-turn in EU leaders’ industrial and commercial thinking. They also represent a partial move away from the unconditional globalization policy advocated so far.
In parallel to the French President’s advance, the German government is pushing an EU law ahead, aimed at preventing hostile takeovers of strategically important European companies that have suffered a high loss of value as a result of the corona crisis. This might make them an easy and cheap prey for well-funded investors or state-owned corporations with unlimited financial resources.
Modified competition rules
Further to this, the virus could lead to a change in European M&A rules. A ban on mergers such as planned by Siemens and Alstom for their high-speed train divisions but prohibited by the EU Competition Commission to avert oligopolistic structures in the European rail industry, will probably be okayed in future. As it looks, the new goal is to build industrial European champions following the multinational Airbus model in order to compete on a level playing field with highly state-subsidized competitors from China, Russia or airlines from the Gulf region.
In a nutshell: the corona crisis promotes new thinking and abolishes several old taboos, forcing many people to leave their comfort zone. On the positive side it might be a storm clearing the air for sunnier times ahead.
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