Ensuring a seamless pan-European sky

We must ensure that cross-border collaboration in our skies continues beyond Brexit, writes NATS CEO Martin Rolfe.
NATS CEO Martin Rolfe | Photo credit: NATS

By Martin Rolfe

20 May 2020

There are many challenges facing the aviation industry today but ensuring we can help the social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must be the most pressing. Aviation will be crucial to the recovery: enabling international tourism, underpinning supply chains and reconnecting families.

But daring to look beyond that immediate issue, we know our industry faces a number of other significant challenges: the need to improve environmental performance, modernising our air traffic management systems and finding ways to safely accommodate new airspace users. These are all challenges that will remain once planes return to our skies, and where collaboration across borders is essential.


At NATS, the UK’s primary Air Navigation Services Provider, we manage around a quarter of Europe’s daily traffic, as well as more than 80 percent of transatlantic traffic, making the UK Europe’s transatlantic gateway.

We are a leader in European efforts to improve the way air traffic is managed. We have contributed to the SESAR programme since its inception: leading projects to deliver new ways of sharing data across borders that reduce emissions and improve punctuality; pioneered efforts to reduce the aviation industry’s environmental footprint; helping airlines reduce emissions; and worked with our neighbours to ensure traffic is managed based on traffic flows, not national boundaries, supporting the smooth functioning of Europe’s airspace and the vision of a Single European Sky. All of these activities, I believe, have benefited European, as well as British, citizens.

In the negotiation on the EU and UK’s future relationship, there are inevitably areas of contention, where the UK’s decision to leave the EU brings challenges and raises questions of competition and market access. But there are less contentious areas, where ongoing cooperation should be mutually beneficial. The way we manage airspace is one such area.

"Aviation will be crucial to the recovery: enabling international tourism, underpinning supply chains and reconnecting families"

We certainly hope to be able to continue contributing to the recovery of Europe’s aviation industry, as well as to its modernisation and preparation for a sustainable future. And we hope to do this in partnership with our neighbours: to offer our expertise in helping the aviation industry face its future challenges, ensuring the efforts and progress we have made together can continue.

Now is not the time to do things in isolation or constrained by political boundaries. If we do not work together then we risk not only initiatives like SES but the aviation market as a whole, which is the backbone of global trade and its logistical and economic recovery.

We recognise that, with the UK’s departure from the EU, the terms on which we cooperate may be different. But it is in the best interests of the aviation industry and of citizens of both the EU and UK that cooperation continues. And if the European Parliament has a chance to ensure this cooperation can continue in the future, I hope it will view the situation in the same way.

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