EASA purview expands to cover ATC and airports

 - May 1, 2009, 8:14 AM

With the introduction of the second phase of the Single European Sky (SES II), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will greatly increase its scope by assuming responsibility for safety regulation of the region’s ATC structure and its airports. The EASA succeeds Europe’s Joint Aviation Authorities. That agency was charged with promoting aviation standardization across the 27 member nations of the European Union (EU) but had limited enforcement power. In 2003 it became part of the EASA, an official arm of the EU.

The EASA will now have the legislative clout to require EU member nations to meet uniform policies and standards. In a sense, it will bring Europe more in line with the U.S., where the FAA has total responsibility for establishing and enforcing aviation standards. So Europe will have comparable–but not necessarily identical–rules in all the same areas as the FAA. There is one important difference: the EU is composed of the stakeholding nations that are its members, and it is their individual budgets that would be affected by EASA decisions, such as, for example, upgrading ATC facilities throughout the region to a new standard.

Stakeholders will also be represented in the EU’s annual assessment of the EASA’s performance, coupled with a major review of the agency’s activities every five years. One could say that Congress performs a similar function when reviewing the FAA’s annual appropriation requests, but the European approach would see much more aviation industry involvement in policy- and rulemaking rather than having these decided by a federal agency that is overseen, and sometimes second guessed, by politicians.

Typical of this approach is the joint action plan recently launched by Eurocontrol, the International Air Transport Association, Europe’s airports and air navigation service providers and manufacturers to have continuous descent approaches operational
at 100 airports across Europe by 2013. In this case there was no lengthy public consultation and political wrangling, just action. Another example is the March introduction of controller/ pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) in the upper airspace above Belgium, Luxembourg, northwest Germany and the Netherlands. For more than 400 aircraft already equipped, CPDLC will eliminate dependence on congested ATC VHF channels. EASA plans to mandate CPDLC in western Europe upper airspace by 2013 and in the remaining areas by 2015.

The EASA will be deeply involved in Europe’s introduction of functional airspace blocks (FABs). By 2012, these will eliminate the need for pilots to change frequencies to another ATC organization for a few minutes as they clip a small corner of one nation and shortly thereafter depart its airspace and change frequencies again to call controllers in the next country. FABs are the new international airspace borders in Europe, where groups of half a dozen nations will exercise control through a single ARTCC-like facility.

Elimination of the previous airspace borders will allow direct great-circle tracks between points, with resulting route mileage reductions and fuel savings. FABs will also standardize overflight fees of member nations. These fees currently cause some cost-conscious operators to fly slightly longer routes to bypass countries with higher charges.