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Functional airspace blocks (FABs)

Map functional airspace blocks

Current phase in the process of establishing FABs

Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) shall be implemented by 4 December 2012. Currently, we have entered the consultation phase.

As part of FAB implementation and to facilitate an exchange of views, Member States in all FAB initiatives will consult other Member States, the European Commission, EASA, and other "interested parties".

Captured in, this consultation process will provide the Member States in FABs an opportunity to validate their approach. By 24 June 2012, the consultation material of all FABs shall be submitted to the European Commission. The European Commission will distribute the material to Member States, EASA, and "interested parties" that will be invited to submit observations to the related FAB. It is expected that this process will contribute to establish FABs on a solid legal, technical and operational basis, fully in line with SES objectives.

As defined in Commission Regulation (EU) 176/2011, interested parties means the neighbouring third countries to a FAB, relevant airspace users or groups of airspace users, and staff representative bodies as well as air navigation service providers adjacent to the FAB.

In addition, several SES related bodies would be also considered as interested parties: for example, the Performance Review Body, the Network Manager, the Industry Consultation Body, and the SESAR Joint Undertaking are expected to contribute positively to this overall process.

Background on FABs

Airspace is a common resource

Although airspace is a common resource, air traffic management (ATM) in the European Union is still organised in a fragmented way. Every time a plane enters the airspace of a Member State, it is serviced by a different air navigation service provider (ANSP) on the basis of different rules and operational requirements. Each service provider procures tailored equipment and most maintain their own training schools and all other support functions. This fragmentation impacts on safety, limits capacity, and above all, adds to cost.

The key to improved capacity and efficiency, enhanced safety and lower costs of air navigation services, is through enhanced cooperation and integration across borders. The establishment of Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) is a key mechanism of the Single European Sky (SES) and represents the framework established by Member States to enable this increased cooperation and integration leading to a more rational organisation of airspace and service provision poised to meet the performance expectations of the airspace users and that of the European Union through its performance scheme.

This also implies civil-military coordination in airspace and air traffic management. FABs shall be established regardless of State boundaries. The provision of air navigation services shall be performance-driven and optimised. FABs will become drivers for performance and change of the landscape of ATM service provision; they will provide an invaluable tool for ANSPs in reaching binding performance targets.

Together with the introduction of a performance regulation and a strengthening of the ATM network functions, the acceleration of the creation of FABs represent the key measures in the new regulatory approach to reach the objectives to enhance current air traffic safety standards, to contribute to the sustainable development of the air transport system, and to improve the overall performance of air traffic management and air navigation services in Europe.

FABs: a tool to develop a Single European Sky

The concept of FABs was defined in the 1st legislative package (2004) of the SES and further developed in the 2nd legislative package (2009). The creation of FABs is one of the cornerstones of the SES.

FABs are a major tool to reduce airspace fragmentation and are necessary to accommodate the steadily growing traffic and to minimise delays by managing the traffic more dynamically. Objectives of enhancing current safety standards and overall efficiency can best be achieved through an increase of the scale of operations, regardless of national borders. This also implies civil-military coordination in airspace and ATM. Under European Union legislation, Member States are legally obliged to seek and investigate the possibilities for cooperation that best would meet the objectives while ensuring that a number of requirements are met before establishing the FABs through agreement between Member States. Such agreements should also cover the issues of responsibility and liability. Moreover, FABs will become drivers for performance and change of the landscape of ATM service provision as they will provide an invaluable tool for air navigation service providers in reaching new binding performance targets put in place as a consequence of the implementation of the EU Performance Scheme.

The service provision Regulation (Regulation (EC) N° 550/2004) as amended by Regulation (EU) N° 1070/2009 foresees in its Article 9a that FABs shall respect the following criteria:

  • be supported by a safety case
  • enable optimum use of airspace, taking into account air traffic flows
  • ensure consistency with the European route network established in accordance with Article 6 of the Airspace Regulation
  • be justified by their overall added value, including optimal use of technical and human resources, on the basis of cost-benefit analyses
  • ensure a fluent and flexible transfer of responsibility for air traffic control between air traffic service units
  • ensure compatibility between the configurations of upper and lower airspace
  • comply with conditions stemming from regional agreements concluded within the ICAO
  • respect regional agreements in existence on the date of entry into force of this Regulation, in particular those involving European third countries
  • facilitate consistency with EU-wide performance targets.

Nine FAB initiatives

Currently, nine FAB initiatives are under development - two (in bold) have been declared established and notified to the European Commission :

  • UK-Ireland FAB
  • Danish-Swedish FAB
  • Baltic FAB (Lithuania, Poland)
  • BLUE MED FAB (Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta)
  • Danube FAB (Bulgaria, Romania)
  • FAB CE (Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovak Republic, Slovenia)
  • FABEC (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland)
  • North European FAB (Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Norway)
  • South West FAB (Portugal, Spain).