The Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) effort, the “technological pillar” of the future Single European Sky (SES) vision, has a new lease on life. In April, the European Parliament voted to extend the mission of the entity managing the research and development program, known as the Sesar Joint Undertaking (SJU), by eight years until 2024. The SJU expects the European Union Council of Ministers will approve the extension this summer.
The SJU’s extension means that Europe will continue driving air traffic management technology improvements even as the continent digests the ongoing restructuring of its ATC infrastructure. In a separate action during its plenary session in March, the parliament approved amended Single European Sky legislation known as SES 2+, which redoubles the EC’s effort to break down state barriers and reorganize the continent into more efficient “functional airspace blocks” (FABs), which have been slow to begin functioning.
Among several changes to the program, 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 ATM performance targets. SES 2+ also strengthens the central role of Brussels-based Eurocontrol as “network manager” to perform network-level services across Europe, including air traffic flow management, route design and coordination of radio frequencies and radar transponder codes.
Last month, the European Commission (EC) issued formal letters of notice to Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to “improve” their FAB–the first of the nine regional airspace entities to receive such notification. The five countries and non-EU state Switzerland ratified a treaty forming Functional Airspace Block Europe Central (FABEC) in June 2013, missing the EU’s December 2012 deadline.
“We have to finally overcome national borders in the European airspace,” said EC transport commissioner Siim Kallas. “FABs are a necessary, vital component of the Single European Sky. Right now these common airspaces exist only on paper; they are formally established but not yet functional. I urge member states to step up their ambitions and push forward the implementation of the Single Sky.”
Trade unions representing controllers and some air navigation service providers (ANSPs) have protested the reforms embodied in SES 2+, arguing that its cost and performance targets are unrealistic and compromise safety. Last year, the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) was among airspace user groups that advocated stronger measures to achieve the Single European Sky vision. “European airspace users are negatively impacted and therefore extremely concerned by the lack of achievements: the Single European Sky needs to be put back on track by stronger leadership from the European Commission and enforced commitment by member states,” the EBAA said in a joint statement with the Association of European Airlines, the European Low Fares Association, the European Regions Airline Association and the International Air Carrier Association.
While the SES institutional framework has been slow to form, the Sesar research pillar is considered successful. In addition to approving an extension of the SJU’s mission from December 2016 to 2024, the Parliament endorsed the EC’s proposal to contribute €600 million ($831 million) toward its operations through the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework program for research.
In a draft opinion recommending the SJU’s extension last year, Antonio Cancian, rapporteur with the parliament’s transport and tourism committee, said: “In the context of recent developments concerning the implementation of the Single European Sky performance pillar, including unsatisfactory and slow progress in setting well-functioning performance and charging schemes or the functional airspace blocks which are still to deliver the expected results, the rapporteur sees the technological pillar as the leading element in the implementation structure of the whole Single European Sky concept. That is why the continuity of its structure, both in terms of funding and human resources, is of crucial importance.”
Deployment Phase Started
The Brussels-based SJU, a public-private partnership that includes industry contributions, has entered the deployment phase of the Sesar effort, the final phase planners envisioned to create the SES by 2020. It has a new executive director, Florian Guillermet, who previously worked for Eurocontrol, French air navigation service provider DSNA and Air France before joining the SJU as chief program officer in 2008. Guillermet’s appointment as executive director became effective on April 1. He is the organization’s second permanent executive director, succeeding Patrick Ky, who now heads the European Aviation Safety Agency, and Claude Chêne, who served in an acting capacity after Ky’s departure.
Earlier this year, the SJU published a fourth set of 20 Sesar technology validation exercises it plans to conduct this year. Among them, it will conduct a “shadow mode” trial at Saarbrücken Airport in Germany to assess the functionality of a “remote tower” concept–providing ATC services from a remote location to an airport with low-to-medium traffic density of 20,000 movements per year of less. A second trial at Röst airport and Vaeröy Heliport in Norway will validate the feasibility of providing simultaneous air traffic services to multiple remote aerodromes by a single operator.
The SJU managed 68 total validation exercises over three previous releases. It proved the remote tower concept at several Scandinavian airports in the third release.