EU States Miss Deadline for Functional Airspace Blocks

 - December 10, 2012, 10:20 AM
Six European countries signed an agreement creating the Functional Airspace Block Europe Central (Fabec) group in December 2010. Fabec says it handed over compliance documents to the European Commission on time. (Photo: Fabec)

European Union member states failed to meet a December 4 deadline to begin operating regional air traffic management blocks as required by Single European Sky (SES) regulations dating to March 2004. Airline trade groups joined in condemning the states over the missed deadline.

The SES legislative package, amended by SES II in 2009, calls for the reorganization of European airspace into nine “functional airspace blocks” (FABs) based on operational requirements and without regard to national boundaries. The effort requires that air navigation service providers (ANSPs) in the 27 EU member states agree to new roles within the FAB state groupings. To date, all nine FAB groups have reached various stages of development. But only two, UK-Ireland and Sweden-Denmark, “have been declared established and notified to the European Commission,” according to the commission.

“Many member states are seriously lagging behind and not yet fully compliant with requirements,” the commission announced as the December 2012 deadline set by SES II legislation arrived. It attributed the delay in compliance to “a protracted focus on finalizing institutional issues…and undue protection of national interests.” The commission also served notice that it will begin “infringement procedures” against member states whose FABs have not met legal requirements.

In an October speech in Limassol, Cyprus, European transport commissioner Siim Kallas raised the prospect of infringement proceedings against non-complying states, and pledged to accelerate the implementation of the Single European Sky in general by presenting an “SES II+” package next spring. FAB state groupings “will be required to develop strategic and operational plans,” Kallas said. “It is not enough for FABs to exist merely on paper.”

Airline industry organizations said inefficiencies resulting from the “fragmentation” of European airspace into 27 separate jurisdictions cost the industry €5 billion ($6.5 billion) a year. In a joint statement, the Association of European Airlines, the European Low Fares Airline Association, the European Regions Airline Association and the International Air Carrier Association called the missed FAB deadline “scandalous” and urged that the EC assess penalties against non-complying states. “They have had eight years to comply with the regulation, yet they have not moved much further than the mere creation of FABs,” the associations said. “We are dismayed that lack of political will by member states has stalled any hoped-for progress.”

The International Air Transport Association issued its own release urging EU member states and ANSPs to move forward with the FABs.