In the special programme broadcast by Atalayar from the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR), in collaboration with Europea Media, Aviación Digital and the International Press Club, we had the presence of Ángel Luis Arias, CEO of ENAIRE, who spoke to us about the challenge faced by the company in tackling the COVID-19 crisis. On the other hand, the CEO of ENAIRE took advantage of the framework offered by Atalayar to point out that sustainability, digitalisation and safety will continue to be fundamental aspects for the company. Finally, Arias highlighted the projects and alliances in which the Public Business Entity managing air navigation in Spain and Western Sahara is currently immersed.
How is ENAIRE overcoming the pandemic, to what extent has it affected it and how is ENAIRE facing the recovery?
ENAIRE has been affected by the pandemic in the same way as the other players in the aviation sector, airport companies, etc. We could not stop at any time during the pandemic because we had to continue with medical or emergency flights, or the few flights that remained during those terrible months. Throughout 2021 we have been progressively recovering air traffic, we have finished on average 45% below 2019, which is our reference year, although this 45% may be misleading because there have been days when we have been in some centres such as the Canary Islands close to 2019 levels. We face the year 2022, despite being involved in the 6th wave, with great optimism, our forecasts at the moment are that we can end the year having recovered 90% of the air traffic of 2019 and, throughout this summer, we are convinced that we will manage to exceed the traffic data of 2019, which was already a historic year in itself. Currently, there is some uncertainty and volatility, but I believe we are preparing to help the sector, the airlines and the airports to recover and return to the normality that we had. Air transport is not going to be completely the same, aspects such as sustainability are important, for ENAIRE the issues related to safety are still the most important thing, flight safety and, finally, we have air navigation tariffs that we have kept well below 2019, this year specifically we will be 15% lower to facilitate costs for airlines and airports.
You are facing the year 2022 with the presidency of the A6, in this sense ENAIRE has the prestige and the capacity to be able to preside over an organisation of this magnitude...
Indeed, the presidency of A6 is a recognition of ENAIRE. We are one of the most powerful national air navigation managers in Europe, both in terms of number of flights and management capacity. It is called A6 because it started a few years ago among the main national air navigation managers (German, French, Italian, British and Spanish). Subsequently, more providers have been added in the form of alliances, and now the A6 alliance manages more than 80% of European traffic, so the decisions we take have a significant influence on aviation. The fact that ENAIRE is taking over the presidency this year is going to be very positive for European traffic, and also from ENAIRE, as the national manager, we want to promote all the projects of the SESAR programme, which are R&D&I projects to make the Single European Sky a reality. We focus on projects that the European Commission is launching, we join together to research and develop new technological solutions, new operational concepts and coordinate deployment and implementation. I would like to highlight that we are going to form a partnership with Eurocontrol, with the network manager, airlines and airport managers to accelerate the implementation of the new systems and technologies that will make the Single European Sky possible.
We citizens do not stop to think that being able to travel to different European cities is possible thanks to companies such as ENAIRE that are taking care of it and we should be more aware of this.
In fact, we are a little invisible in this respect. An airport is visible, an airline is not only visible but you can even sit inside the plane, airport control towers are also visible, but that is not our main activity, the control tower is limited to the airport, but through our control centres and facilities distributed throughout the territory and our satellites we manage and control the large number of flights, not only those entering and leaving Spain but also many overflights that cross our airspace and which we have to service.
We are facing the challenge of economic recovery, the EU approved the Next Generation funds, but we have a company that is committed to sustainability, digitalisation and, in short, to the safety and quality of a fundamental service in today's world, such as ENAIRE. How do you face these challenges for 2022?
If there is one thing we have not done during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been to reduce investments, i.e. we have made an effort to reduce costs and expenses, but we have not stopped investing, on the contrary, we have increased them. This year we have even more investments, we have around 28 million euros that we will use to continue digitising our systems, throughout the new drone sector and the air traffic and control systems. In addition, we are part of another European alliance called iTEC, with the pleasure that it is a Spanish industry that is developing this system, which is Indra, so I think we are a benchmark at European level. On the other hand, we are developing a new concept of air traffic management using drones, U-Space, and we have recently approved a new environmental sustainability strategy, in which ENAIRE can contribute to making routes straighter so that aircraft consume less fuel and emit less CO2 into the atmosphere, more continuous approaches and descents to airports to facilitate the work of aircraft. We are making a great investment effort so that when we emerge from the crisis we can do so even more strengthened.
An important part of this are the air traffic controllers, professionals who work for ENAIRE and make all this aviation a reality.
ENAIRE has two main pillars, firstly, people (human resources) and then technology. As far as the human team is concerned, we are a team of more than 4,000 people, some 2,000 air traffic controllers, 600 maintenance technicians, 230 operations technicians, engineers, service personnel and they are the main protagonists of all this, we are a highly technological service company and thanks to them we are overcoming the pandemic. We have recently launched a new call for 90 vacancies for air traffic controllers, we are already in exams, trying to look to the future and not let the pandemic get us down. If there is one thing that is clear to us, it is that aviation will continue to be fundamental to the world, it will certainly become more sustainable and efficient, it will have to continue to be as safe as it is today or safer, and we have to look forward to 2022 with optimism.
What message would you like to send to consumers who may need to regain their confidence or vice versa, those of us who are looking forward to travelling and being able to regain the life we knew before the pandemic started.
A message of clear optimism, and that the aviation sector, of which ENAIRE is part of the chain along with airlines, airports and many other operators, we are prepared to meet the emotional needs of travelling, and seeing family, friends or simply going to the beach. This is going to be a good year, and I am sure I will not go wrong. I would like to encourage everyone to take up flying when the time comes, at the moment there are some restrictions with the COVID-19 passport, but they will gradually disappear and travelling will be the pleasure it has always been.