MEPs put brakes on air services liberalisation

Air Traffic Control Eurocontrol.jpg

Members of the EU Parliament’s transport committee rejected yesterday (30 January) the European Commission’s attempt to fully liberalise air navigation services in the 28-country bloc, until further impact studies are carried out. 

MEPs gave the Commission a two-year deadline to come up with a detailed assessment of the consequences of full liberalisation of air navigation services, which encompass activities such as weather forecasting and information services.

The committee stressed that national aviation authorities must be independent from the air navigation service providers they are overseeing. But they also must ensure that there are no “statutory impediments” preventing service providers from competing with each other, the MEPs said in a statement.

“Air navigation service providers should be able to call for tenders from different support service providers when drawing up their business plans, with a view to choosing the financially and qualitatively most beneficial provider,” MEPs said.

Transport committee members also supported more flexibility for Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), allowing more cooperation between national aviation authorities, in an effort to make air traffic control less fragmented.

Air traffic controllers on strike

But the new Single Sky package was heavily contested by the air traffic controllers EU coordination (ATCEUC), based in France, which held a strike on Thursday (30 January) to protest against the proposal.

“We came across a European Commission proposal [that is] even more unrealistic, clearly showing that the former declaration of good faith … was a big fraud,” the association said.

Air traffic controllers and transport workers’ unions staged protests last October in Brussels against the proposal. Transport workers complained the Single Sky lacked a “social dimension”.

British air traffic controllers also staged protests yesterday in front of the Commission’s offices in London against the proposal, saying it would “hive-off support services, such as engineering, from air traffic management services and outsource them”.

They warned that EU plans would lead to “widespread job losses”, as the proposal “wants to link the plans to stringent performance targets designed to halve ATM costs by 2020. Unions say this will result in the widespread job losses”.

The legislation put to vote yesterday is an update of the existing Single European Sky 2+ rules, recasting four regulations into a single one.

Marian-Jean Marinescu, European Parliament rapporteur for the Single European Sky proposal (European People’s Party, Romania) said: “I tried, as much as possible in my proposals, to take into account the opinions of the various stakeholders whom I met in the past months. The vote in the Transport Committee has led to a balanced text.

"We need to have at heart the 600 million passengers flying all over Europe each year. We need direct routes and a new and efficient airspace architecture. At the same time, we need to meet the requirements to provide an efficient traffic control that would, first of all, secure passengers’ safety. For this, we have to take into account the positions of the companies and of the employees in this sector.”

First proposed in 2004 and established in 2009, the functional airspace blocks – or FABs - were enthusiastically backed by member states and the aviation industry. The deadline for compliance was 4 December 2012.

These nine FABS would gradually reduce the 68 air traffic control centres in the 31 controls that now monitor the 28,000 flights a day in European airspace.

The FABs include EU and non-EU countries and could eventually incorporate nations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa as a way to reduce flight delays and provide more direct routing to save fuel.

Whereas Europeans can now move freely on the ground within the Schengen area, airspace guidance is still largely divided by national boundaries.

  • March 2014: Vote in Plenary session
  • January 2016: Deadline for EU Commission impact assessment on liberalisation

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