EC Acts To Reverse Single European Sky Failure

 - October 15, 2012, 1:00 PM
European Union member states such as France, Germany and the UK have failed to meet their obligations to the Single European Sky program, according to the European Commission, and will now face possible penalties and tougher legislation to prevent further procrastination.

The European Commission (EC) plans to propose new legislation to accelerate implementation of the Single European Sky (SES) program and is threatening legal action against national governments that have failed to fulfill their obligations to the far-reaching air traffic management (ATM) reorganization. In an October 11 speech in Cyprus, EC transport commissioner Siim Kallas acknowledged that SES “is not delivering” on its goals of halving ATM costs while tripling airspace capacity. Under EC mandate, member states and Eurocontrol must fully activate nine new functional airspace blocks (FABs). Although theoretically achievable, the new borderless ATM plan in practice appears likely to fall far short of delivering on its goals.

“At the moment it is clear that [FABs] will make little if any contribution towards an integrated and defragmented airspace,” said Kallas, adding that continuing inefficiencies in European airspace cost the air transport industry at least an extra €5 billion ($6.4 billion) per year and add an average of 42 kilometers (23 nm) to every flight. After singling out France, Germany and the UK for failing to meet their SES obligations, the transport commissioner said the EC will seek “infringement” penalties as well as tougher new legislation to force states to cooperate.

“We have fallen seriously behind in our original ambitions,” said Kallas. “After more than ten 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 is too much national fragmentation. Promised improvements have not materialized.” The new legislation, scheduled for introduction next spring, calls for higher SES performance targets for the period 2015-2019, a requirement for states to develop strategic and operational plans at the FAB level, new powers for SES’s “network manager” and allowing air navigation service providers to outsource ancillary services to focus on core tasks and to reinforce their separation from national regulators.

In a joint response to the transport commissioner’s speech, an alliance of airspace users backed the call for tougher enforcement measures “to overcome sovereign interests.” The group, consisting of the European Regions Airline Association, the European Low Fares Airline Association, the International Air Carrier Association and the European Business Aviation Association, blames EU member states for failing to achieve promised ATM cost-efficiency targets. It complains that SES mandates have compelled them to invest just over $40 billion in equipment and infrastructure improvements, while governments have largely failed to fulfill their commitments.