The European Parliament, meeting in plenary session in Strasbourg, approved the amended Single European Sky (SES) legislation known as SES 2+ on March 12. The legislation now must be approved by European Union member states.
“The Single European Sky initiative is crucial to boost competitiveness in the aviation sector, create jobs and contribute to the European economy’s growth. Today’s vote in the Parliament gives a boost to the entire project,” stated Siim Kallas, European Commission vice president for transport. “It is now up to the member states to take this important issue forward, and deliver a truly efficient air traffic system in Europe.”
With SES 2+, the EC proposed to update regulations that created the Single European Sky effort, which is comparable to NextGen in the U.S., and to amend rules governing the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). It builds on SES 1, which entered force in 2004, and SES 2, which became effective in 2009. Among changes, the SES 2+ legislation calls for “full organizational and budgetary separation” of national authorities from the ATC organizations they oversee; opening ATC support services to competitive bidding; and strengthening air traffic management (ATM) performance targets. Companies will be able to form industrial partnerships with the regional ATC entities called functional airspace blocks (FABs).
Trade union organizations representing air traffic controllers oppose the changes, which the EC has described as reforms to accelerate the lagging SES program. “Despite the pressure put by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), its affiliates and other stakeholders, the European Parliament did not oppose the European Commission’s approach to dogmatically liberalize the ATM industry and disregarded its safety-critical aspects,” the ETF said in a statement. The federation, which claims to represent 25,000 controllers and ATM staff, said it has opposed the commission’s SES 2+ recommendations “from the beginning.”
The Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Coordination (ATCEUC) issued a similar response last month, after the Parliament’s transport and tourism committee reported the SES 2+ package to the full legislative body. “Under the intense and continuous lobbying by airlines, members of the European Parliament, without any technical expertise, voted in favor of a project that will ultimately lead to a dangerous downgrade of air navigation service provision, jeopardizing thousands of jobs and increasing the cost for air travelers across Europe,” the trade unions association said. “The new proposed package introduces market principles for support services, fragmenting the safety chain inside the ANSPs [air navigation service providers] and leading to new monopolies…[T]he Commission insists on achieving unrealistic targets, all the while blaming states, ANSPs and staff for its failure.”
The Association of European Airlines welcomed the Parliament’s action. “Almost 10 years ago, we had the first Single European Sky legislation, which failed to deliver. So we had SES 2, which failed to deliver [and] now we have SES 2+,” said Athar Husain Khan, the association’s CEO. “Hopefully this package will provide the appropriate means to overcome the unwillingness of member states to move forward, and break the current deadlock that we are facing in the implementation of the Single Sky.”