Towards a European sky without national borders
EU passengers and airlines will benefit from cheaper, shorter-distance, greener and more punctual flights in Europe once a single airspace across Europe, the ‘Single European Sky’, is realised. Working towards unifying the nationally fragmented air traffic control systems across Europe, the European Commission – the EU’s executive body – has urged Member States to take action to implement the ‘Single European Sky’ legislation and to improve the performance of air navigation service provision.
As a matter of fact
Each day there are more than 26,000 daily flights in Europe, accommodating approximately 38,000 flight hours. More than 16,700 air traffic controllers direct the traffic from/to 450 European airports. The huge volume of air traffic is managed by hundreds of air traffic control sectors that are operated by more than 60 air traffic control centres in Europe. As the network of aviation routes is based on national sovereign airspace, air traffic management is very fragmented and dominated by national service provision. Approximately more than 1000 hours of delay per day and longer routes are the result of the current situation, meaning higher costs, longer flights and more fuel consumption than necessary.
The European Union has been working on reforming and unifying Europe’s fragmented air traffic control systems since 2000, when the European Commission launched the Single European Sky initiative. Throughout the last ten years, the European Union has adopted two major sets of legislative measures:
- The first Single European Sky legislative package was adopted in March 2004. Bringing air traffic control under EU competence, the package consisted of a framework regulation and three technical regulations that applied to both, the civil and military sectors of aviation. The regulations were designed to improve and reinforce safety and to restructure the airspace on the basis of actual traffic flows instead of national borders. The legislation covered regulatory, economic, safety, environmental, technological and institutional aspects of aviation.
- Stating that the first Single European Sky legislative package was not sufficient to meet the increasing number of flights and the developments of the European single market of aviation, the European Union adopted a second package of legislation in 2009 (‘Single European Sky II’). Aiming at truly establishing the Single European Sky from 2012 onwards, the package is based on five pillars: performance, safety, technology, airports and the human factor.
Functional Airspace Blocks
The answer to the current situation of fragmented air traffic control is to integrate air navigation service provision within so-called functional airspace blocks. Air navigation services will be managed according to operational needs instead of national boundaries. The result will be significant capacity gains and more efficient use of airspace across the continent.
The creation of functional airspace blocks takes place under the Single European Sky legislative framework. These nine functional airspace blocks will be established:
NEFAB: Estonia, Finland, Latvia, including Norway as a non-EU Member State
DANISH/SWEDISH: Denmark, Sweden
BALTIC: Poland, Lithuania
FABEC: France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland
FABCE: Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
DANUBE: Bulgaria, Romania
BLUEMED: Italy, Malta, Greece, Cyprus
UK/IRELAND: United Kingdom, Ireland
SOUTHWEST: Portugal, Spain
In 2011, EU Member States agreed on EU-wide performance targets in relation to air navigation service provsision. Member States are required to adopt performance plans to show how they will meet the EU-wide performance targets adopted by the Commission.
European Union-wide performance targets were agreed in the key performance areas of environment, capacity and cost-efficiency.
For the first reference period 2012-2014, assessments revealed that only the performance plans of Lithuania, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Denmark are in-line with the agreed European Union-wide targets. All other EU Member States are requested to revise their plans in order to comply with the targets (see table in annex for information on each Member State).
According to an assessment by the European Commission, the national performance plans would miss the EU-wide target for cost efficiency by 2.4% in 2014. Additional measures are needed to achieve a €250 million saving over the entire three year reference period 2012-2014.
Existing plans by Member States would also fail to meet the EU-wide target of 0.5 minute delay per flight in 2014. If this target was achieved, some €920 billion would be saved over 2012-2014 due to fewer and shorter delays.
The European Commission has called on Member States to confirm their commitments and to take action in order to successfully implement the Single European Sky legislation. Failing to take measures at national level to achieve the Single European Sky would oblige the Commission to reopen the legislative packages in view of more radical solutions. Also, Member States are to revise their performance targets in line with the Commission’s recommendations.
For more on the Single European Sky, click here.