Henrik Hololei, the European Commission’s DG for mobility and transport—known as MOVE—has warned against a reverse “to a purely nationalist agenda,” and cautioned that Western nations risk undermining their leadership role in global aviation.

Speaking at the International Aviation Club (IAC) of Washington DC July 19, Hololei said, “The status quo will not last forever and as global trends start to change, I am no longer sure we will be modeling them if we do not dare to think globally. We used to show the rest of the world how to advance things. Are we happy and pleased now to see China and others take over the void that we, the so-called West, leave open?”

Hololei also stressed that lack of capacity in air space systems and at airports was the biggest challenge facing global aviation, with growth in demand in Europe, Asia and Africa set to greatly outpace supply in coming decades. He cited forecasts from Eurocontrol predicting 1.5 million more flights in demand than can be accommodated by 2040 unless governments significantly step up investment in increased capacity. By 2035, Hololei estimates that lack of capacity could lead to 800,000 lost jobs and an annual GDP loss of around €50 billion ($58.21 billion).

Protectionism, influenced by the “new nationalism and widespread populism,”  is the second biggest challenge facing global aviation, he said.

“The positive growth in the aviation sector should not be taken for granted,” he said, adding that globalization and the “opening up of markets” has fostered increased air travel and helped millions of people move around the world. “Global open markets do not mean there are no rules; on the contrary, the predictable legal frameworks serve and protect us best.”

“It is important that Europe does not fall into this growing camp of continuing to fight over global open markets,” he added.

On Brexit, the DG expressed uncertainty about the future of EU-UK aviation cooperation, saying that “all options are on the table.” He also said UK carriers would no longer be considered European carriers and the country would cease to be a full member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

“All options are still possible, including the most dramatic ones...The future of the EU-UK relationship will depend on the general conditions of the UK exit and what type of Brexit we have in the end. We are preparing for all scenarios,” he said.

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com