EU ‘Single Sky’ agreement in sight

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Despite some diverging views, the European Parliament and the Council are heading for first-reading agreement on the Single European Sky proposed by the European Commission last summer, paving the way for the swift implementation that is eagerly awaited by both businesses and the joint research undertaking Sesar. 

Exchanging views at a conference on the proposed upgrading of the 2004 Single European Sky (SES) deal and plans to increase the powers of the European Aviation Safety Agency, representatives of the EU institutions and stakeholders looked set to agree on the main points of the SES II package before the June European elections. 

Despite the Parliament’s desire to go further than the Commission and member states, “by March we will have a common position agreed,” predicted Romanian MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu (EPP-ED), the EU assembly’s draftsman on the issue. His comments were echoed by Commission and Council representatives.

Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani, referring to reforming air management as “an important political choice,” even said that his personal plan was to propose speeding up the original implementation plan once the package is adopted, so that Single European Sky can be delivered earlier than 2012. 

His comments pleased industry stakeholders, who called for quick solutions and implementation and warned that the March deadline for the planned Parliament plenary vote “can’t be missed”. 

The points of discord still to be solved between the Council and the Parliament include a proposal from MEPs to oblige national supervisory authorities to issue certificates to air navigation service providers for each type of air navigation service, even in the case of bundles of such services. Member states do not like the idea, arguing that it will only increase the administrative burden, instead of ensuring higher quality services. 

Furthermore, some air navigation services, including meteorological services, are used by the military, and unbundling them is “a complicated issue”, a Council representative told EURACTIV.  

Airlines are not the only ones eagarly awaiting true implementation of the European ‘Single Sky’. The Sesar Joint Undertaking, the SES’s technological strand in charge of developing a new generation of air traffic management systems, “is an integral part of SES and the technologies cannot be implemented if we don’t have SES,” underlined Patrick Ky, executive director of Sesar. “Functional airspace blocks (FABs) are going to be the catalyst for implementing Sesar, and the other way around,” he added.

He argued that making the technology happen “is an easy part” of Sesar, while “having it implemented is another issue”. Therefore, “it is necessary to ensure that, once we propose a system, it is accompanied with a solid business model,” Ky underlined. 

He said that common ground between Sesar stakeholder companies and Eurocontrol on what to do was found late last year, but explained that “we don’t know yet how to do it, nor who will invest in making it happen in the current economic crisis”. However, Ky added that “securing the financial deal” was close and financing plans would be presented to the SESAR JU administraive board shortly, so as to conclude a partnership by April. Technical work could then kick off “probably in May”.

Despite a series of regulations adopted in March 2004, aimed at reforming the current air traffic management system and creating the Single European Sky (SES), EU airspace remains broadly divided into 27 different systems under the control of national governments. This fragmentation forces airlines to zig-zag between 27 different airspaces - each serviced by a different air navigation service provider on the basis of different rules and requirements - making them fly further and thus increasing emissions and costs for operators. 

Due to lack of progress on the 2004 regulations, the European Commission put forward, in June 2008, a second legislative package to overcome the "numerous hurdles" encountered when trying to integrate European airspace. 

The main additions to the 2004 package are the introduction of binding performance targets for air navigation service providers and a target date of 2012 for member states to establish cross-border cooperation between themselves. Such cooperation involves "functional airspace blocks" (FABs), transfer of increased competences to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the creation of Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) to eliminate the current fragmented approach to air traffic management systems in Europe.

  • 9 Dec. 2008: Council agreed agreed on technical provisions of SES II.
  • 20 Jan. 2009: Parliament's transport committe adopted reports on SES II and EASA.
  • 26 March 2009: Parliament plenary vote on the package scheduled.
  • 31 March 2009: Council expected to adopt the Sesar ATM Master Plan.

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