ATC Global Conference Draws Attention to SES Roadblocks

 - March 19, 2012, 1:47 PM
The European Commission last September appointed Eurocontrol, an exhibitor at the March 6 to 8 ATC Global conference in Amsterdam, the role of “network manager” to implement common procedures across the European airspace system. (Photo: Ian Sheppard)

The annual ATC Global conference and exhibition, held earlier this month in Amsterdam, attempted to bring into sharper focus the vision of a Single European Sky (SES).

Participants seemed to reach a consensus that significant governance and finance issues remain unresolved. In particular, the restructuring of European airspace into nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) faces major obstacles from individual states looking to protect their interests and which appear unwilling to make the drastic cuts in ATC centers required to make the system more efficient.

The FAB concept arose in the first legislative package of SES initiatives adopted by the European Parliament and Council in 2004 (SES I) and underwent a revision in the SES II package adopted in 2008. The legislation requires creation of multinational FABs by December 4 this year. 

Perceived slow progress in the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) program, which is implementing the SES package, prompted Matthew Baldwin, European Commission transport director, to warn that a “Package 3” of SES legislation could result to expedite the airspace initiatives.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing international airlines, has criticized the pace of FAB implementation. IATA has said that Europe’s fragmented airspace costs the industry $4.5 billion in inefficiencies. By 2020, it says, about 20 percent of flights in Europe will suffer delays unless the pan-European ATC system gets modernized. But individual states face added costs and opposition from controller unions in rationalizing their ATC centers.

Many projects have begun as part of the development phase of Sesar, which is comparable to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) effort in the U.S, but the overall impression is one of limited progress. Notable exceptions do exist, as illustrated by the early February “Initial 4D” flight conducted by an Airbus A320 from Toulouse to Copenhagen to Stockholm shortly before ATC Global. Patrick Ky, executive director of the Sesar Joint Undertaking, pointed to the Initial 4D trial as one of the “quick wins” necessary to demonstrate progress in the ATC modernization effort to European stakeholders.