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03/12/2016

EU to modernise its air traffic infrastructure

Transport

EU to modernise its air traffic infrastructure

“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,” said the European Commission.

[NATS Press Office]

The air transport industry is to receive €3 billion from the European Commission to merge and improve Europe’s air traffic infrastructure, the EU executive announced today (5 December).

A coalition of four airlines, 25 airport operators, and 11 air traffic controllers, otherwise called the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), will use the EU funds to bring up to date EU airspace.

“Today’s agreement is a great achievement for EU aviation, forever changing Europe’s air navigation system, making it smarter, cheaper, greener, and safer,” said Violeta Bulc, the Transport Commissioner.

As most of the EU’s air traffic technologies date back to the 1950s, the systems have limited capacity to manage an ever-increasing number of flights, reduce costs, and curtail emissions.

SESAR, a public-private partnership, aims to merge 28 national air control systems. The EU, compared to the US, still has a fragmented airspace. As member states’ airspace is structured around national boundaries, flights are often unable to take direct paths.

“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,” said the Commission.

A study conducted by the EU’s executive shows that member states lose up to €4 billion annually as a result of an outdated structure.

According to the Commission, SESAR would contribute with €419 billion to EU’s economy over the period of 2013-2030, and with “an estimated creation of 328,000 jobs, including indirect and inducted impacts”. SESAR is part of the Single European Sky (SES), a broader EU initiative that aims at restructuring the union’s airspace.  

Towards a Single European Sky

Earlier this week, the Council gave its partial consent over SES legislation, but it still has to find common ground with the European Parliament until the law takes effect.

The approval of SESAR’s financial support is seen as a milestone towards achieving a less fragmented EU airspace.  

“Today is a landmark day both for the Single European Sky and for European aviation,” said Richard Deakin, Director at NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services.

“This collaboration shows how committed all of us in the industry are to working together to modernise Europe’s airspace.” 

Background

European skies are still divided into 27 different airspace sectors, forcing aircraft to fly through numerous air traffic control systems to get to their destination, rather than flying the shortest route. European airlines estimate that inefficiencies in European air traffic management (ATM) cost the industry €5 billion a year. 

The Single European Sky (SES) initiative aims to modernise airspace management to cope with increasing traffic, improve safety and reduce both costs and the aviation sector's CO2 emissions. 

The Sesar Joint Undertaking (JU), a public-private partnership in air traffic management R&D, is the technological component of the Single Sky Initiative and seeks to develop the EU's future ATM system. 

Further Reading

European Commission