Single European Sky: 10 years on and still not delivering
The Single European Sky, the flagship project to create a single European airspace – tripling capacity and halving air traffic costs – is "not delivering". Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for transport, today announced his intention to present new legislative proposals in Spring 2013 to accelerate implementation, as well as taking all enforcement actions possible, including infringements where necessary.
Inefficiencies caused by Europe's fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to €5 billion each year. It adds 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight, forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user-charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.
Speaking at the high-level conference "Single European Sky: time for action" in Limassol (Cyprus) today, Vice-President Kallas remarked: "I have always said that the Single European Sky is my top aviation priority. It is too important to be allowed to fail. We have fallen seriously behind in our original ambitions. After more than 10 years, the core problems remain the same: too little capacity generating the potential for a negative impact on safety at too high a price. There are some signs of change, but overall progress is too slow and too limited. We need to think of other solutions and apply them quickly. There is too much national fragmentation. Promised improvements have not materialised."
2012 is a critical year for the Single European Sky (SES), with four key deliverables including nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to be operational by December 2012. The Vice-President warned that, based on progress to date, Europe is still a long way from creating a single airspace. He said, for example, that while the FABs are to be established, "We now need to make them add proper value. At the moment it is clear that they will make little if any contribution towards an integrated and defragmented airspace." He announced that in order to ensure the necessary progress, the Commission will use its existing enforcement powers to the maximum, if necessary including infringements.
In addition, in Spring 2013, the Commission will bring forward proposals to strengthen the existing SES legal framework, with a view to accelerating the on-going reforms. The proposals will include measures to strengthen:
1. The Performance Scheme. Achieving performance targets to increase European airspace capacity and cut costs go to the heart of the Single European Sky. They are vital for its entire success.
In July 2012, the Commission approved national plans to reduce costs and increase capacity for the period 2012-2014. The Commission intends to significantly raise the level of ambition in performance targets for 2015-2019. In addition, the SES proposals in 2013 will also ensure that the Commission has all necessary powers to require Member States and FABs to deliver the agreed targets and will reinforce the independence of the Performance Review Body.
2. Nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) are in the process of being established. The Commission will present proposals to make sure these regional air traffic management blocks deliver real operational improvements. They will be required to develop strategic and operational plans at FAB level. It is not enough to exist on paper; FABs must deliver real operational results swiftly.
3. The Network Manager for Europe. The Commission will reinforce the powers of the Network Manager, in particular to allow it to take on more centralised pan-European functions, for example with regard to airspace design, including route planning. This will help to maximise the efficiency of the network.
4. Further Reform of Air Navigation Service Delivery. The Commission will propose a greater focus on core tasks whilst enabling service providers to tender out ancillary services. It will also propose to reinforce their separation from their national regulators.
All of this depends on the successful deployment phase of the SESAR programme – the technological arm of the Single European Sky. The Commission will shortly present its proposals on governance and financing schemes to the Council and the Parliament.
The Single European Sky (SES) is a flagship European initiative to reform the architecture of European air traffic control, to meet future capacity and safety needs. Building on initiatives in the late 1990s, the Single Sky I (SES I) package was adopted in 2004, the Single Sky II Package (SES II) was adopted in 2009.
With full implementation of the SES:
- Safety will be improved by a factor of ten;
- Airspace capacity will be tripled;
- The costs of air traffic management will be reduced by 50%;
- The impact on the environment will be reduced by 10%.
What happens next?
The Commission will bring forward new SES proposals in Spring 2013. The legislative proposals will need to be approved by Member States and Parliament before becoming law.
Single European Sky: Key facts and figures
European skies and airports risk saturation. Already some 1.4 billion passengers pass through Europe's more than 440 airports every year. Each day there are around 27,000 controlled flights – that means 10 million cross Europe's skies each year. 80% of these flights are operated within the EU.
Today's situation is competently handled by the European air transport sector, but, under normal economic conditions, air traffic is expected to grow by up to 5% annually, reaching up to nearly 17 million flights by 2030. In 2030, as many planes will take to the skies above Europe each year as there are inhabitants of Beijing.
If we don't do something chaos will reign. Europe would not only have to reject a large portion of potential demand, it would also be vulnerable to delays and flight cancellations on an unprecedented scale. If we continue with business as usual congestion costs will increase around 50% by 2050.
The central problem is that Europe's air traffic management systems are fragmented and inefficient.
EU airspace remains fragmented into 27 national air traffic control systems, providing services from some 60 air traffic centres while the airspace is divided into more than 650 sectors. That means airspace is currently structured around national boundaries and so flights are often unable to take direct routes. On average, in Europe, aircraft fly 42 km longer than strictly necessary due to airspace fragmentation, causing longer flight time, delays, extra fuel burn and CO2 emissions.
In addition, current air traffic management technologies were designed in the 1950s. They are now archaic.
The inefficiencies caused by Europe's fragmented airspace bring extra costs of around €5 billion a year. These costs get passed on to business and passengers. Air traffic control currently makes up 6-12% of the cost of a ticket.
The US air traffic management system is twice as efficient as that of the EU; it manages double the number of flights for a similar cost from a third as many control centres.
Faced with these challenges, in the late 1990s, proposals were formed to create a Single European Sky, removing national boundaries in the air, to create a single airspace:
- improving safety tenfold,
- tripling airspace capacity,
- reducing air traffic management costs by 50%,
- reducing the environmental impact by 10%.