EU moves forward towards a single sky

The Council of EU Transport ministers, and the members of the EU Single Sky Committee took far-reaching decisions on 2nd and 3rd December which will impact progress towards a true Single Sky over Europe. In fact, six EU member states agreed on a legally binding treaty to deal with air traffic management over the air spaces of France, Germany, Switzerland and Benelux.

The Association of European Airlines, AEA, which brings together 35 leading European network airlines, welcomed these developments as an urgently required step in the right direction, but there are far more to go, particularly if situations as in Spain are to be avoided in future.

Re-drawing the map of the skies above the Single Market is an essential feature of the Single Sky, Mr Schulte-Strathaus, Secretary General of the AEA. These so-called Functional Blocks of Airspace, FABs, replace the current system of air space management along national borders by a Schengen for the Skies. The agreement now signed on a central European FAB, FAB-EC, lies at the heart of Europes airway system; it will be by far the busiest of the nine Functional Airspace Blocks which will replace the national systems. He warned, however, that the real work lay ahead. It is an inter-governmental agreement which creates the legal basis for FABEC, not a consensus on how it will work. The next step is for the air navigation service providers of the states involved to sit down together and get to work on the details. Key are the performance targets which must remedy the weaknesses of the current system and therefore be ambitious.

In a parallel development, the first Single Sky performance targets have been agreed. For the three years 2012-14, the Europe-wide cost efficiency of the system must improve by 3.5% per year and targets also have been set for delay reduction and an increase in flight efficiency in other words a reduction in the circuitous routings which waste fuel and contribute to environmental impact.

These targets are not of themselves particularly challenging, said Mr Schulte-Strathaus, and the airlines believe that there are vastly greater savings to be unlocked by the Single Sky without underlining safety in any way. Nevertheless air navigation service providers will be subjected to budgetary discipline and to target achievements which will benefit customers and the environment.

Commenting upon the work-to-rule of Spanish air traffic controllers, the AEA said that it was unacceptable the best paid civil servants in the world should be able to paralyse air transport. The Spanish government has rightly insisted upon safety and reliability as key factors for air traffic control. But beyond taking immediate steps, such as the ones the government is contemplating, structural reforms are require and urgently as we witnessed again, this time in the Spanish air space.

As with the FAB-EC signature, the real work is still to come. The next phase will be much tougher, said the AEA Secretary General. the allocation of individual targets for individual governments to implement at national level with their respective air navigation service providers. We are relying on the European Commission to remain firm when it comes to one-on-one negotiations.

European airlines, he said, were facing serious challenges to their global competitiveness, to which the present air traffic management system in Europe is probably the greatest barrier. The €9.6 billion annual cost of operating the system borne by the airspace users is thought to be double the figure required for a fully-functional Single Sky. This is a truly Trans-European project, which will not be targeting air traffic controllers; they will become integral part of a globally competitive infrastructure service provider to the benefit of employment and the environment, said Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.

David Henderson
The Association of European Airlines (AEA)


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