12-Jun-2013 10:17 AM

European Commission acts to accelerate Single European Sky

European Commission (EC) announced (11-Jun-2013) it has acted to speed up the reform of Europe's air traffic control system. EC stated it is looking to "head off a capacity crunch" as the number of flights is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years. The EC is proposing to update the four regulations creating the Single European Sky (SES), and amend rules governing the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Key elements of the proposals, known as SES2+, include:

  • Better safety and oversight: EC is proposing full organisational and budgetary separation of national supervisory authorities from the air traffic control organisations whom they oversee, while at the same time ensuring sufficient resources are given to the national supervisory authorities to do their tasks. In the future airlines will have a new role in signing off air traffic control organisations' investment plans to ensure they are better focused on meeting customer needs. EASA audits have shown great deficiencies in the oversight of air traffic control organisations;
  • Better air traffic management performance: EC's proposals for SES2+ will strengthen the performance scheme by making the target setting more independent, transparent and more enforceable. It will strengthen the role of the EC in setting ambitious targets. At the same time, it will increase the independence of the Performance Review Body - as the key technical advisor - and enable sanctions to be applied when targets are not met;
  • New business opportunities in support services: EC is proposing to open up new business opportunities for companies to provide support services to air traffic control organisations. Support services, such as meteorology, aeronautical information, communications, navigation or surveillance services, will be separated so they can be put out to competitive tender, in an open and transparent manner, under normal procurement rules. Core air traffic control services are natural monopolies and will not be covered by the new rules. Support services are the biggest cost driver in air traffic management and they can at the moment be procured from monopoly providers without proper assessment of costs and benefits. Estimates indicate that 20% savings can be expected from the introduction of normal public procurement rules;
  • Enabling industrial partnerships: EC is proposing to ensure the co-operation of service providers through Functional Airspace blocks (FABs) can be set up in a more flexible way – to allow them to create industrial partnership and work with a wider range of partners to increase performance. FABs are intended to replace the current patchwork of 27 national air traffic blocks with a network of larger, regional blocks to gain efficiency, cut costs and reduce emissions. Despite a binding deadline of Dec-2012 for EU member states to establish FABs, none of the nine FABs which have been created are fully operational. The EC is currently examining infringement cases against all EU member states in relation to FABs, particularly where no progress towards reform is seen the coming months. The role of the Network Manager (Eurocontrol) will also be strengthened to run centralised services in Europe in a more efficient way. Strengthening the Network Manager means, in particular, that routes can be shortened which in turn reduces fuel burn and overall air pollutant emissions.

The EC's proposals must be approved by EU member states and the European Parliament before becoming law. EU Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, said that airlines and passengers "have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky". The legislation is "strengthening the nuts and bolts of the system so it can withstand more pressure and deliver ambitious reforms even in difficult economic times". [more - original PR]

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