Single European Sky: Towards greener air travel?


With 27 separate airspaces, Europe's skies are getting increasingly crowded and polluted, leading the EU to push for the realisation of a "Single European Sky". But member states' reluctance to hand over sovereignty in this area could be slowing down the process.

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Airspace is one of the areas in which European integration has been slow to keep up the pace. Indeed, the European sky is still divided into 27 different pieces of airspace that remain under the control of national governments. 

This fragmentation has negative repercussions in terms of the efficiency of Europe's air travel because airlines have to cut across numerous air-traffic control systems in order to get to their destination. It also causes safety concerns by creating additional traffic jams in the air and adds to air pollution by forcing planes to fly extra kilometres and assume holding patterns when airborne before being able to land in Europe's busy airports. 

Airlines' activities are currently responsible for just 3% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions but this is expected to rise as air traffic doubles by 2020.

To address these issues, the Commission launched an initiative, in 1999, aimed at creating a 'Single European Sky' (SES) by reforming the current Air Traffic Management system. A series of regulations was adopted in March 2004 with a view to implementation by 2025. But, conceding that these regulations had "not delivered the expected results in some important areas," the Commission, in June 2008, put forward a second package of legislation. 

The Single Sky initiative is part of a three-pillar strategy aimed at greening aviation, which includes the establishment of a 'Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative' and legislative proposals to include the sector in the EU's emissions trading scheme (see LinksDossier on Aviation & ETS). 

The Clean Sky initiative is a €1.6 billion public-private research partnership to help the air-transport industry develop environmentally friendly technology for planes. It was officially launched in February 2008 with the aim of halving noise, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre, as well as slashing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 80% by 2020.