Single European Sky – EU’s ambitions to harmonise air traffic control continue to have problems
Across Europe, air traffic is expected to grow by up to 3% annually and the number of flights may rise by 50% over the next 10-20 years. There are some 9 million flights cross Europe’s skies each year. The industry fears unless there are efficiencies, this growth will not happen and Europe would also be vulnerable to delays and flight cancellations on an unprecedented scale. There are already costs to airlines (and passengers) due to delays etc. The Single European Sky is intended to harmonise air traffic control better, as they are fragmented and inefficient. EU airspace is in 27 national air traffic control systems, providing services from some 60 air traffic centres while the airspace is divided into more than 650 sectors. That means airspace is currently structured around national boundaries and so flights are often unable to take direct routes. Nine Functional Airspace blocks (FABs) are intended to replace the current patchwork of 27 national air traffic blocks. European Transport Workers’ Federation accused the Commission of trying to put “the economic stability of the sector at risk by introducing competition, liberalisation and more and more market principles.”
What is the Single European Sky?
The Single European Sky (SES) initiative of the European Commission (EC) provides a legislative framework to meet future safety, capacity and efficiency needs at a European rather than at a national level.
Single Sky: Commission acts to unblock congestion in Europe’s airspace
Brussels, 11 June 2013 ( Europa)
The European Commission has today acted to speed up the reform of Europe’s air traffic control system. The Commission is looking to head off a capacity crunch as the number of flights is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years [Preliminary results from Eurocontrol Challenges of Growth 2013 study].
Inefficiencies in Europe’s fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to 5 billion Euros each year to airlines and their customers. They add 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.
EU Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, said: “Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky. We cannot afford to continue this way. Today we are strengthening the nuts and bolts of the system so it can withstand more pressure and deliver ambitious reforms even in difficult economic times. We need to boost the competitiveness of the European aviation sector and create more jobs in the airlines and at airports”.
The Commission is proposing to update the four regulations creating the Single European Sky (SES), and amend rules governing the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Key elements of the proposals known as SES2+ include:
Better safety and oversight
Safety remains the first priority for aviation. EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) audits have shown great deficiencies in the oversight of air traffic control organisations in the Member States. The Commission is proposing full organisational and budgetary separation of national supervisory authorities from the air traffic control organisations whom they oversee, while at the same time ensuring sufficient resources are given to the National Supervisory Authorities to do their tasks. This will have a very positive effect both on oversight and safety. Many supervisory authorities are currently under-resourced and dependent on the support of the entities they are supposed to oversee.
In the future airlines will have a new role in signing off air traffic control organisations’ investment plans to ensure they are better focused on meeting customer needs.
Better Air Traffic Management Performance
The reform of Europe’s air traffic management system is driven by four key performance targets: safety, cost-efficiency, capacity and environment. These targets go to the heart of the reform process as they require air traffic control organisations to change and provide better services at lower cost.
In recent years, the delivery on performance targets has fallen significantly short of the overall level of ambition. This is because, under the current system, Member States have the ultimate say on targets and the adoption of corrective measures in case targets are not reached.
The Commission’s proposal will strengthen the performance scheme by making the target setting more independent, transparent and more enforceable. It will strengthen the role of the Commission in setting ambitious targets. At the same time, it will increase the independence of the Performance Review Body – as the key technical advisor – and enable sanctions to be applied when targets are not met.
New business opportunities in support services
The Commission is proposing to open up new business opportunities for companies to provide support services to air traffic control organisations. Support services, such as meteorology, aeronautical information, communications, navigation or surveillance services, will have to be separated so they can be put out to competitive tender, in an open and transparent manner, under normal procurement rules. The core air traffic control services are natural monopolies and will not be covered by the new rules.
Support services are currently the biggest cost driver in air traffic management and they can at the moment be procured from monopoly providers without proper assessment of costs and benefits. Conservative estimates indicate that 20% savings can be expected from the introduction of normal public procurement rules.
Enabling industrial partnerships
Functional Airspace blocks (FABs) are intended to replace the current patchwork of 27 national air traffic blocks with a network of larger, regional blocks to gain efficiency, cut costs and reduce emissions. Despite a binding deadline of December 2012 for Member States to establish FABs, none of the 9 FABs which have been created are fully operational. The Commission is currently examining infringement cases against all Member States in relation to FABs, particularly where no progress towards reform is seen the coming months.
However, FABs have so far had rather inflexible constructions. The Commission is therefore proposing to ensure that that the co-operation of service providers through the FABs can be set up in a more flexible way – to allow them to create industrial partnership and work with a wider range of partners to increase performance.
The role of Network Manager (Eurocontrol) will also be strengthened to run centralised services in Europe in a more efficient way. Strengthening the Network Manager means, in particular, that routes can be shortened which in turn reduces fuel burn and overall air pollutant emissions.
What happens next?
The Commission’s proposals must be approved by Member States and Parliament before becoming law.
Single European Sky: key facts and figures
European skies and airports risk saturation. Already some 800 million passengers pass through Europe’s more than 440 airports every year. Each day there are around 27,000 controlled flights – that means 9 million cross Europe’s skies each year. 80% of these flights are operated within the EU.
Today’s situation is competently handled by the European air transport sector, but, under normal economic conditions, air traffic is expected to grow by up to 3% annually. The number of flights is expected to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years.
If we don’t do something chaos will reign. Europe would not only have to reject a large portion of potential demand, it would also be vulnerable to delays and flight cancellations on an unprecedented scale. If we continue with business as usual congestion costs will increase around 50% by 2050.
The central problem is that Europe’s air traffic management systems are fragmented and inefficient.
EU airspace remains fragmented into 27 national air traffic control systems, providing services from some 60 air traffic centres while the airspace is divided into more than 650 sectors. That means airspace is currently structured around national boundaries and so flights are often unable to take direct routes. On average, in Europe, aircraft fly 42 km longer than strictly necessary due to airspace fragmentation, causing longer flight time, delays, extra fuel burn and CO2 emissions.
In addition, current air traffic management technologies were designed in the 1950s. They are now archaic.
The inefficiencies caused by Europe’s fragmented airspace bring extra costs of around €5 billion a year. These costs get passed on to business and passengers. Air traffic control currently makes up 6-12% of the cost of a ticket.
The US air traffic management system is twice as efficient as that of the EU; it manages double the number of flights for a similar cost from a third as many control centres.
Faced with these challenges, in the late 1990s, proposals were formed to create a Single European Sky, removing national boundaries in the air, to create a single airspace:
a) improving safety tenfold,
b) tripling airspace capacity,
c) reducing air traffic management costs by 50%,
d) reducing the environmental impact by 10%.
For further information:
EU’s single sky ambitions remains grounded by national air traffic jams
With air traffic in the EU expected to grow 50% by 2030, the European Commission has waged an uphill battle to get member states to live up to their agreement to implement the Single European Sky, or SES, to make air traffic control more competitive and replace a network of national systems with regional traffic management.
Most national governments missed a December 2012 deadline to implement a key provision of SES, the creation of functional airspace blocks, or FABs, that are to consolidate national air control into regional operations.
Trade unionists in France and several other countries who led protests on 11 and 12 June contend the plan will cost jobs and compromise safety.
The aviation industry and environmental groups, however, have formed an unusual alliance to support EU commitments to create FABs on grounds that improved coordination could lead to cleaner, quieter and more punctual air travel.
“Controllers are very conservative,” a French industry official whose business works on SES-related contracts told EurActiv at the Paris Air Show, where aircraft makers and suppliers this week are touting technologies they say reduce noise and pollution. “And for national governments, there are problems with money and political will.”
Aviation’s traffic cops
Technological developments that have improved aerodynamic design and created quieter engines play a leading role in reducing the environmental footprint of aviation. Yet traffic management has a no less significant role: The traffic cops of airspace can ensure more direct routing and reduce the amount of time airplanes spend over populous areas on their approach to landing.
Andrew Watt, head of environment at Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based civil-military air traffic management and safety organisation, says “performance can be enhanced from the cross-border perspective in that you are losing the concept of national airspace, not necessarily sovereignty over the airspace, but you start to have cross-border air traffic control.”
“Everyone is trying to make the whole system more efficient to be able to cope with increasing numbers of traffic while improving safety levels even further, to be able to generate the capacity, improve safety and reduce environmental impact per flight,” he said in a telephone interview.
Eurocontrol is working in EU nations and 12 other participating countries to reduce the impact of aviation nuisances like noise through changes in landing patterns, so that aircraft spend less time cruising at lower altitudes before they land. The approach from higher altitudes reduces fuel consumption and means people living along flight paths are exposed to less noise since aircraft remain at higher altitudes longer.
Deeper coordination could also allow more direct routing. Airlines say their passengers would benefit from reduced travel times and while the aircraft themselves would spend less time in the air burning jet fuel. The European Commission estimates that the lack of regionalised traffic management adds 42 kilometres to the typical flight.
Industry vs. unions
The Association of European Airlines, a Brussels-based industry group, said delays in the Single European Sky cost companies €14 million per day in higher fuel costs and contribute to higher carbon emissions, which the industry is obliged to reduce.
The amount is not insignificant in an industry struggling to remain profitable. European airlines have been among the hardest hit financially in recent years, with revenues trailing the global average. The International Air Transport Associationestimates that net profits for European airlines will top $1.6 billion (€1.2 billion) in 2013, compared to $4.4 billion in North American and $4.6 billion for carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.
As the French controllers went on strike, causing flight delays and cancellations across Europe, European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas renewed calls for EU countries to live up to their obligation under a 2009 agreement to incorporate national control operations into nine FABs.
Kallas, the commissioner in charge of transport, has repeatedly lashed out at governments for failing to act and called for an update to the SES, known as SES2+. The proposal came six months after the commissioner conceded that ambitious plans to consolidate national air traffic control into a regionalised system were being hampered by national inaction despite years of planning.
“Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky,” Kallas told a news conference in Brussels.
“We cannot afford to continue this way. Today we are strengthening the nuts and bolts of the system so it can withstand more pressure and deliver ambitious reforms even in difficult economic times,” he said. “We need to boost the competitiveness of the European aviation sector and create more jobs in the airlines and at airports”.
In response, the European Transport Workers’ Federation accused the Commission of trying to put “the economic stability of the sector at risk by introducing competition, liberalisation and more and more market principles.”
The French action was backed by union affiliates in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.
The Association of European Airlines, a Brussels-based industry group, said as controllers unions took action on 11-12 June: “Instead of industrial actions and counterproductive confrontation, which will severely penalise European air passengers, airspace users call for a clear commitment by all stakeholders, including states, to work together to achieve the successful and timely implementation of the Single European Sky,” the group said in a statement. “There is a real need to address this situation urgently: solutions exist but they require a real political and institutional impulse.”
Riccardo Rubini, who heads the trade unions’ Air Traffic Management Committee at the European Transport Workers’ Federation, said in a statement on 11 June: “We reject a performance scheme dominated by cost reduction that mainly aims to cut on jobs,” “It puts safety in the European sky only as a second priority, in favour of the economic aspects, and such an approach is unacceptable.
The Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, an international group representing air traffic management companies, on 20 June called on governments to adopt global measures to mitigate the environmental impact of aviation.
Speaking from the CANSO Global ATM Summit in the Caribbean island of Curacao, CANSO Director General Jeff Poole said: “CANSO and its members are committed to the aviation industry four-pillar strategy of: improved technology; more efficient aircraft operations; infrastructure improvements, including modernised air traffic management systems; and market-based measures, to fill the remaining emissions gap. The air traffic management industry is playing its part by improving efficiency so aircraft can fly optimal and fuel-efficient routes. We have already made significant progress in implementing new procedures that improve efficiency, save fuel and reduce emissions.”
TIACA welcomes measures to strengthen the Single European Sky and speed up its implementation
The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) strongly welcomes the 11 June proposal by the European Commission to strengthen and speed up the implementation of the Single European Sky.
After over a decade of discussions, legislation and failed implementation, the Association says it is imperative that the EU and its Member States take action now to realize the benefits of an integrated and modernized air traffic management (ATM) system.
Oliver Evans, TIACA’s Chairman, said: “We welcome the enhanced performance targeting scheme. More stringent EU-wide targets for safety, capacity, cost-effectiveness and environmental performance are required in order to ensure real improvements in the efficiency of air navigation services across Europe. This must, however, be accompanied by appropriate incentives and legal penalties in order to ensure compliance with the performance targets and avoid Member States focusing solely on their own national interests.
“The proposal for greater flexibility and industry partnership in building the Functional Airspace Blocks should help create the basis for a more efficient air traffic management system. The completion of the Functional Airspace Blocks should nonetheless be carried out within a realistic, yet ambitious, timeframe, with appropriate penalties for non-compliance.”
A modernized and harmonized air traffic management system for Europe will enable more direct and efficient routing and taxi routes, and eliminate wasteful hold-times in the air. It is estimated that ATM enhancements could improve fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions by up to 12%. IATA estimates that cutting flight times by a minute per flight on a global basis would save 4.8 million tons of CO2 every year.
TIACA also encourages the EU to proceed with the timely deployment and implementation of SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research), so as to ensure that the technology is in place, both on the ground and onboard aircraft, to match the necessary improvements in the air traffic management system.
“Furthermore, as air transport is a global industry, we believe that the development of the Single European Sky should not take place in isolation, but rather that compatibility with other such schemes worldwide is required. This will ensure interoperability and greater efficiency at international level, and TIACA therefore urges governments to ensure that their approach to ATM systems be global in nature and reflect harmonized standards,” Evans added.
TIACA is a global not-for-profit trade association representing all the major segments of the air cargo and air logistics industry – combination and all-cargo airlines, forwarders, airports, ground handlers, road carriers, customs brokers, logistics companies, shippers, IT companies, aircraft and equipment manufacturers, trade press, and educational institutions