Single European sky delays 'will come at a high price'

The single European sky would create 'over 300,000' jobs in the EU, but is facing a number of obstacles that must be overcome as soon as possible, writes Franck Proust.

By Franck Proust

13 Apr 2015

The single European sky (SES) concept is simple - to unite the air control over European skies, which is currently divided into around 30 zones and where planes are sometimes forced to make huge detours because of frontiers in the sky. And, the single European sky air traffic management research (SESAR) is also an opportunity to produce a technological breakthrough in terms of inflight aircraft communications. 

The single sky would allow these frontiers to be removed, in the same way they faded on the ground 20 years ago. More specifically, it would allow travel times to be shortened by 10 per cent, flight safety would be increased tenfold, over 300,000 jobs would be created, savings of 50 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and over €400bn of economic spin-offs.

That is, of course, in theory. In practice, things are slightly more complex. The process is moving along and legal texts exist and are being applied. But several obstacles are casting a shadow over the future of the single sky. 

First, the application of the legislation already in force has resulted in technical blocks. European governments are failing to play by the rules. The introduction of functional airspace blocks (FABs) - sets of several national airspaces - was supposed to be the initial stage of the implementation of the single sky. 

"Travel times [would] be shortened by 10 per cent, flight safety would be increased ten-fold, over 300,000 jobs would be created, savings of 50 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and over €400bn of economic spin-offs"

However, some member states are lagging behind; the commission has called these countries to order. There has been no agreement yet on how European air control will be managed once the single European sky is in place. Not to mention, the reluctance of some vocations to move with the times which sometimes block air passengers for days.

There are also political hurdles relating to the 'single sky II' dossier which is currently being discussed. This is because at the time of writing, the European status of Gibraltar airport is up in the air, given that neither Spain nor the UK can agree on the issue. 

Both countries are standing in the way of progress. I respect the principle of sovereignty - something of which I would like to remind my Spanish and British colleagues - however, we cannot freeze dialogues for an entire continent, simply over a single airport located on a rock that is only about half a dozen square kilometres. What would our fellow citizens say if this were to be picked up by the press? 

I must once again reiterate that 'single sky II' would be extremely useful in making the European sky more efficient. Certainly, there are some disagreements between parliament and council. But what we want - what we are demanding - is to progress and move forward.

A delay at any stage of the process will come at a high price, as much for Europeans as for public authorities and businesses. In the medium-term, we will be forced to fork out even more cash and compromise our environmental promises. In the long-term, if we lose the technological battle, Europe will lose its position as the world's leading air power. 

Passenger traffic is expected to rise by 50 per cent by 2035 - we no longer have time to talk, we must act now. We have a schedule that we must stick to. We must once again focus on what is important - becoming simpler and more effective. That is, after all, the example that has been set by the commission's new motto.

Read the most recent articles written by Franck Proust - Space is not the final frontier