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Single European Sky

11 October 2012
by eub2 -- last modified 11 October 2012

The Single European Sky, the flagship project to create a single European airspace – tripling capacity and halving air traffic costs – is "not delivering". Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for transport, today announced his intention to present new legislative proposals in Spring 2013 to accelerate implementation, as well as taking all enforcement actions possible, including infringements where necessary. 2012 is seen as a critical year for the Single European Sky (SES), with four key deliverables including nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to be operational by December 2012.


What is the problem?

The liberalisation of the EU's aviation market in 1993 made travel much more accessible and affordable and has stimulated growth in air services. Since then, traffic has increased by 54%.

The constraints on airspace capacity in Europe have resulted in more delays. Delay is not only due to a shortage of capacity; it is also caused by the fact that air traffic control in Europe is fragmented and inefficient. Airspace is currently structured around national boundaries and so flights are often unable to take direct routes – which would save fuel, reduce costs and be better for the environment.

To make a comparison, in an airspace which is roughly the same size, Europe has more than 30 en-route air navigation service providers and the USA has just one; the USA serves twice as many flights as Europe with the same costs.

What is SES?

The Single European Sky (SES) is an ambitious initiative to remove boundaries in the air as they were removed on the ground for the single market. The SES goal is to reform the architecture of European air traffic control to meet future capacity and safety needs, in particular by improving the overall performance of Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Air Navigation Service (ANS) in Europe, with the aim to:

    Triple airspace capacity. This will reduce delays.

    Improve the safety performance by a factor of 10 so that the total number of ATM related safety incidents will not increase despite traffic growth.

    Reduce environmental impact by 10%.

    Reduce the cost of ATM service to the airspace users by 50%.

SES consists of two major packages of legislation (SES-I and SES-II) as well as numerous supplementary implementing rules.


SES I was about the capacity of the airspace. One of the main achievements of SES I, launched in 2004, is the separation of regulation from service provision through the creation of National Supervisory Authorities (NSAs) and the certification and designation of air navigation service providers (ANSPs). This separation provides greater transparency.

Despite some success, the first package did not create the level of change required to improve substantially the performance of ATM in Europe.

SES-II – Current situation and achievements

In response the Commission proposed a second package of legislation, SES-II, launched in 2009. SES II was about Improving Performance. It consists of four pillars:

    Regulating performance: essentially, this pillar covered the establishment of an independent Performance Review Body (PRB) to oversee the performance of the system and set targets. It made functional airspace blocks (FABs) mandatory by December 2012 at the latest. It foresaw the designation of a European network manager.

    Safety: safety regulation needed to be harmonised and uniformly applied, and so the competence of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was extended to cover aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services. The industry has long supported the extension of EASA to be the sole safety regulator at European level for air transport. With the latest extension of EASA competence this is now becoming a reality.

    Technology: SESAR is the technological arm of the SES. The aim of SESAR is to provide the technical solutions to enable the SES objectives to be achieved. The current phase is managed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking – a Public Private Partnership (PPP) comprising the EC and EUROCONTROL as founding members and additional members representing airport operators, ground and airborne industry and ANSPs. Airspace users, the military and professional staff bodies are involved through separate contracts. From 2014 onwards the deployment phase is concerned with the actual implementation of the SESAR solutions.

    Airport capacity: the European Commission is keen to see airports' capacity potential maximised, and thus has established an Airport Observatory for the exchange and monitoring of information on airport capacity.

    The package is now recognised as including a fifth pillar on human factors, recognising that ATM is and will remain a human-centric activity.

What is the performance scheme?

The performance scheme requires Member States to adopt national or FAB performance plans for fixed reference periods. The first reference period runs for three years from 2012 to 2014; subsequent reference periods will run for five years.

The European Commission defined EU-wide targets for the first reference period that set the ambition for national/FAB targets.

The future success of the performance scheme will depend on the level of ambition that can be set when establishing EU-wide targets for the second reference period (RP2) which will run from 2015 until 2019.

What are the network management functions?

The concept of network management functions, and the associated network manager, was introduced in order to allow the best use of the airspace and ensure that airspace users can operate their preferred trajectories while having the maximum access to airspace and air navigation services.

The European network manager coordinates overall route network design, air traffic management, slot coordination/allocation and help in the allocation of scarce resources, such as radio frequencies and transponder codes.

What are the functional airspace blocks (FABs)?

Functional airspace blocks are intended to support performance improvement through the set-up of common airspace blocks which are arranged around traffic flows rather than state boundaries.

The deadline for the creation of FABs has been established at 04 December 2012. FABs are the main institutional vehicle for achieving the performance targets established by the performance scheme. Currently, progress in delivering real operational improvements is slow; whilst institutional arrangements are expected to be in place by the deadline, real added value is yet to be demonstrated.

FABs - functional airspace blocks

What has been achieved to date?

The Single European Sky is a top aviation priority, too important to be allowed to fail. However, right now the implementation of the whole project is falling seriously behind the original ambition. After more than 10 years, the core problems remain: too little capacity, generating the potential for a negative impact on safety, at too high a price.

A lot has been achieved though: service providers have been separated from those that regulate them; regulators have achieved functional separation from the state through the establishment of national supervisory authorities; interoperability of technical systems has dramatically improved; service providers have reached prescribed standards in their business and safety management systems to allow for their certification and designation; airspace classifications at higher levels have been harmonised; and the principle of the flexible use of airspace is in place – airspace is a single continuum, it is neither civil nor military and must be operated to satisfy the needs of all users at the time they need it.

2012 is a critical year for the Single European Sky, with four key deliverables, some of which are on track. However based on progress to date, the SES process as it stands is not yet delivering an optimum operating environment:

1.The performance scheme, setting key air traffic management (ATM) targets in improving capacity and reducing costs – modestly for the first reference period (2012-14), but demonstrating a paradigm shift by the providers in the principle of transparency of their service delivery. Further work is needed though to incentivise greater efficiency and assure adherence to agreed targets.

2. The nine functional airspace block
s must be operational by end-2012 – not simply as institutional constructs, but also in delivering real operational improvements to users. At the moment it is clear that they will make little if any contribution towards defragmenting airspace by the end of this year due to protracted focus on finalising institutional issues rather than on identifying and actioning operational improvements.

3. The ATM network manager
, already designated in 2011 as Eurocontrol, has established agreed rules of procedure, processes for collaborative decision making, the composition and activity list for a European crisis coordination cell (in response to volcanic induced activity in 2010). They have also generated a network operations portal (access for users to determine the current, live status of the network), a network strategy plan to determine longer term actions to improve the network, and a network performance plan to demonstrate the areas in which the network manager will add positive value to network performance. The network manager is expected to coordinate the allocation of scarce resources, such as radio frequencies, transponder codes and airspace design, and to perform the air traffic flow management function for Europe.

4. The governance and funding/financing for the deployment phase of SESAR, the technological arm of the Single European Sky (from 2014), to allow transition from the R&D phase to the rollout of new equipment and technology. A substantial consultation to determine stakeholder's views has been completed and the Commission is currently drafting an implementing rule that will lay down responsibilities, decision making levels, implementation ownership and identify the deployment manager.

What is the Commission proposing?

The European Commission announced that, in order to ensure the necessary progress, it will use its existing enforcement powers to the maximum extent, if necessary including infringements. For example, failure to comply with FAB establishment rules by 4 December 2012 will force the Commission to begin proceedings against Member States.

Furthermore, in spring 2013, the Commission will bring forward proposals to strengthen the existing SES legal framework, with a view of accelerating the on-going reforms. The proposals will include measures to strengthen:

    The performance scheme. Achieving performance targets to increase European airspace capacity and cut costs go to the heart of the Single European Sky. They are vital for its entire success.

    In July 2012, the Commission approved national plans to reduce costs and increase capacity for the period 2012-2014. The Commission intends to significantly raise the level of ambition in performance targets for 2015-2019. In addition, the SES proposals in 2013 will also ensure that the Commission has all necessary powers to require Member States and FABs to deliver the agreed targets, and will also reinforce the independence of the Performance Review Body.

    The nine functional airspace blocks (FABs) are in the process of being established. The Commission will present proposals to make sure these regional air traffic management blocks deliver real operational improvements. They will be required to develop strategic and operational plans at FAB level. It is not enough to exist on paper; FABs must deliver real operational results swiftly.

    The network manager for Europe. The Commission will reinforce the powers of the network manager, in particular to allow it to take on more centralised pan European functions, for example with regard to airspace design, including route planning. This will help to maximise the efficiency of the network.

    Further reform of air navigation service delivery
. The Commission will propose a greater focus on core tasks whilst enabling service providers to tender out ancillary services. It will also propose to reinforce their separation from their national regulators.

All of this depends on the successful deployment phase of the SESAR programme – the technological arm of the Single European Sky. The Commission will shortly present its proposals on governance and financing schemes to the Council and the Parliament.

Source: European Commission