Strasbourg round-up: Implementation of the single European sky-recast

Written by Marian-Jean Marinescu, Spyros Danellis and Eva Lichtenberger on 12 March 2014 in Special Report
Special Report

Marian-Jean Marinescu, Spyros Danellis and Eva Lichtenberger discuss proposals for a single European sky.

Marian-Jean Marinescu is parliament's rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast

In Europe, there are around 26,000 flights per day and more than 600 million passengers fly each year. Providing this service are 500,000 employees in the airlines- ground-staff and in the air - and fewer than 100,000 jobs in air traffic control and administration. The forecasted growth in air traffic, congestion in airports and complicated routes are primarily the result of an air traffic control (ATC) system based on national borders. Member states' monopolies on ATC are the only ones left in the EU.

When developing a piece of legislation, you should take into account all stakeholders: people, companies, and administration. In the case of the single European sky (SES), the benefit would be an airspace architecture based not on borders, but on efficiency and direct flight routes. And what would be the outcome? Well, importantly, there would be a gain of 15 minutes on a two hour flight, resulting in increased passenger comfort, less fuel burned, reduction of CO2 emissions and a decrease in costs and ticket prices.

This is what SES tried to achieve through SES I, II, II+ and SES air traffic management research (SESAR). The implementation of these regulations has improved activities in the sector through the use of a performance scheme, performance review body and network manager. Flight safety hasn't been affected and delays have decreased, all while airline companies' costs, and passenger numbers, have not decreased. No progress, however, was achieved concerning airspace reshaping: there are no functional airspace blocs and there is insufficient progress on direct routes. The reasons for this are of a political and social nature: maintaining privileges and the unjustified fear of losing jobs.

The EU invested large amounts of money in SESAR - the future of air traffic control - and the industry has also invested in the new technology. The first results of these investments can be implemented, but it would be a shame to do it under the current airspace architecture. There would be a considerable financial loss of public money and it wouldn't bring the expected benefits for passengers. The SESII+ regulation made proposals for a coordinated implementation by a deployment manager, a territorial distribution based on service efficiency, the possibility of re-organising airspace, a network manager, performance evaluation mechanisms and independence for national regulation authorities, better efficiency in support services supply and a performance scheme approved by the performance review body.

The main reason invoked by opponents to the regulation was the need for a mandatory separation of support services, but this was rejected by parliament's transport and tourism committee. A procedure already used by navigation service providers was introduced - the evaluation of multiple offers - and I don't see anything wrong with this proposal. I only see measures that would guide efficient activity, for everyone's benefit, but more importantly for the passengers. Member states don't share the same point of view, however, and in all discussions on this matter, the topic was not the passengers but instead civil servants and workers on the ground. I personally think that a service should be shaped for the beneficiary. In this case the beneficiary is the passenger and he should benefit from safety, comfort and a reasonable price.

It is regrettable that both the Lithuanian and Greek presidencies were unable to start discussions with the council. For me, this means that member states know that if a dialogue starts, we are certain to reach an agreement. Why? Because there is no solid argument against the SES2+ provisions. There is an expression in Romania: "from what you are afraid of, you won't escape". I think it will also be the case for SESII+. SES will be created for the benefit of workers, companies, administrations and, especially, for the passengers.


Spyros Danellis is parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast

The S&D group has been a strong supporter of the single European sky (SES) project and of all measures aimed at defragmenting the EU's air traffic management (ATM) system. We have for the same reasons stood behind the latest single Sky package. The current system needs to change if it is going to cope with passengers' increasing demand for delay-free, environmentally friendly and affordable air travel.

The intergovernmental functional airspace block (FAB) structures conceived ten years ago in the first SES package have failed to deliver that change. The best way to modernise the system is to now push ahead with the performance scheme approach that was set up in 2009, but never fully enforced.

It involves laying down EU and national targets for improvements in efficiency, capacity, and safety in ATM provision. Up until now these targets have been unambitious or openly ignored by member states. That is why the latest package empowers the commission to apply sanctions - if necessary - to get the job done. And besides existing performance areas like efficiency and safety, we introduced a crucial element that was missing: the human factor. Through S&D proposals, the text to be voted would create new, much-needed indicators to cover social, cultural and staffing conditions in the ATM sector.

Meanwhile, the S&D objected to a commission proposal that wanted to split national service providers into providers of "core" and "support" services. Though the need for cost transparency is crucial, this proposal would have had unpredictable social and organisational consequences without guaranteed benefits for aviation.

Overall, we have arrived in Strasbourg with a strong but balanced text that should stand parliament's negotiators in good stead when they argue for the modernisation of EU airspace opposite a very reluctant council.


Eva Lichtenberger is parliament's Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast

The original aim of the single European sky (SES) initiative was to restructure the heavily fragmented European airspace into so called functional airspace blocs which contain several national airspaces. It was said that this measure would reduce delays, increase airspace capacity, improve the safety and reduce the environmental impact of flights by 10 per cent, as well as the costs for the air traffic management by 50 per cent.

But due to the resistance of some member states to implement this new structure those promised effects could only partly be realised. Nevertheless the cooperation between the national structures was enhanced and lead even without a perfect implementation of the commission's proposal to a reduction of delays. If it would´ve also been possible to even partly open military airspaces for civil aviation then positive results in the environmental impacts of flights would have been possible.

The transport committee had a down to earth approach to the commission´s proposal and reduced some of the ambitions of the commission, for example concerning the separation of main and support services. This measure would have led to a loss of quality in jobs, and would have made some of the achievements in flight safety void. Also the transport committee agreed on a more flexible use of the airspace and a uniform procedure for certification of air navigation service providers.

If SES II manages to enhance the cooperation between national structures even more and better, the improvements can be strengthened. But the environmental effect is still to be realised.

About the author

Marian-Jean Marinescu is parliament's rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast.

Spyros Danellis is parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast

Eva Lichtenberger is parliament's Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast

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