Brussels loses patience over Single Sky delays

Siim Kallas. Latvia, 2012. [Valsts kanceleja/ Flickr]

The European Commission sent formal letters to 18 EU countries yesterday (10 July), urging them to improve their Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), the cornerstones of a single European airspace, saying implementation delays were hurting consumers, airlines and the environment.

Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom will all have to improve their FABs in order to make the European airspace cheaper, more efficient and more environment-friendly, the Commission said.

The letters of formal notice were sent as a part of the Commission’s July infringement package and could lead to legal proceedings if the countries do not react within two months.

Under the Single European Sky legislation, national air traffic control organisations should work together in nine regional airspace blocks, or FABs, to increase efficiency, cut costs and reduce emissions.

The set-up of these common airspace blocks is arranged around traffic flows rather than state boundaries, which is expected to bring efficiencies in the entire European Air Traffic Management. If implemented, FABs are expected to bring an estimated €5 billion in savings annually.

The European Commissioner for transport, Siim Kallas, said, “We have to finally overcome national borders in the European airspace. 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.”

The European Commission had given EU member states until 4 December 2012 to implement their FABs but progress has been slow.

“This means more delays, the consumption of more fuel and therefore more greenhouse gas emissions, and more money charged to airlines. With today’s letters of formal notice the Commission asks member states to act in order to optimise the implementation of FABs and air navigation services,” the executive said in a statement.

Holding back the full implementation of the EU’s Single European Sky creates inefficiencies in European air traffic management. Overall this represents a loss of €5 billion per year and negatively impacts safety enhancements, the Commission warned.

Functional Airspace Blocs, or FABs, are a cornerstone towards a single airspace that aim to reduce the fragmentation along national borders in air traffic management.

Setting up a proper FABs system is expected to improve safety and reduce costs and fuel consumption. By enabling airplanes to fly straighter lines at better altitudes, FABs are expected to save fuel and reduce delays. This in turn will improve the service delivered to passengers, bring benefits to the environment both in terms of noise and emissions, and reduce the cost of flying, to the tune of billions of euros annually.

The EU mandated the full implementation of FABs by 4 December 2012, with a regulatory obligation to enable optimum use of airspace in capacity and in flight efficiency, as well as an obligation to deliver optimised air navigation services across the EU.

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