EU to sanction states in bid to cut air traffic delays
(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission said Thursday it will take legal action against EU governments over a decade-long failure to make a reality of a "single" European airspace that would slash costs and delays.
"Ten years on ... (this) is still not delivering," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said of a flagship policy stuck in governmental gridlock, according to a transcript of a speech to a conference in the Cypriot city of Limassol.
"This raises the prospect of infringement proceedings against member states for non-compliance," he warned, referring to a system of legal warnings, fines and action at the European Court of Justice.
Members of the 27-state European Union have been slow to cut air traffic and airport delays towards the agreed goal of a "Single European Sky" that would replace the current patchwork system of national airspace 'boxes.'
The commission estimates that the additional cost to companies amounts to around five billion euros ($6.4 billion) a year.
"All this extra expense is borne by airlines and ultimately by passengers," Kallas said.
Each day, 27,000 flights cross the European sky, with 440 major airports handling 1.4 billion passengers a year -- and air travel is predicted to nearly double by 2030.
EU airspace is divided into 650 sections that are run by 60 air traffic control centres and managed by national systems, with little real cross-border management from coordinators.
Kallas warned member states last November that 2012 would be a "make or break year" for what he said has always been his priority since taking office two-and-a-half years ago.
If the EU were to succeed in modernising the system, it could triple its airspace capacity, improve safety ten-fold, slash pollution by 10 percent and reduce air traffic management costs by 50 percent, the Commission said.
Some countries, such as the Belgium-Luxembourg-Netherlands area that has harmonised all sorts of policies, are on track, but there were supposed to be nine such new sectors in place by the end of this year.
Kallas praised Spain and Portugal for their coming together but criticised Britain, France and Germany which "fell behind expectations."
An EU source said Kallas is "furious" because in his view the cause of the delay is inertia on the part of governments.
The European airline industry has complained that the fragmented air traffic management system is having a detrimental impact on airlines, passengers and the environment in terms of time, fuel burn and money.
Air traffic control currently represents between six and 12 percent of the price of a plane ticket, added to which are the rights to take off and land, and since this year, an EU tax on airline pollution emissions.
Because of the fragmentation, aircraft are forced to cover longer distances over "bizarre routes" since controllers are unable to handle more than a certain number of flights at one time, the EU source said.
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