The sky has a limit

More than ten years after the start of the initiative for a unified airspace, it appears that – contrary to popular belief – the European sky might be facing some limits. With a highly fragmented air management system run by 27 national operators and Member States reluctant to fulfil their commitments, the Single European Sky (SES) seems to be on the brink of failure.

The main objective of the SES project is to reform air traffic management in Europe in order to cope with the increasing air traffic capacity under safe, cost- and flight-efficient and environmentally friendly conditions. Over a decade after the launch of this ambitious plan, which is supported by Europe’s pilot community, the creation of a borderless European sky remains, however, a challenge. 

Hosted by the Cyprus EU Presidency, the Single European Sky Aviation Summit on 11-12 October, provided an opportunity for EU policy makers to show that the SES implementation stalemate has yet reached another limit: the limit of their patience. 

In an effort to put the SES initiative back on track, EU Vice-President and Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas presented the EU Commission’s plan “B”. The plan consists of a proposal for a revised implementation plan, SES 2+, and possible infringement procedures for those Member States, which do not fulfil the commitments to merge their national air control spaces into nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) by 4 December 2012. FABs are a measure to reduce current inefficiencies due to airspace fragmentation by regrouping and reorganising common European airspace. 

Major aviation countries such as Germany, France and the UK have been named and shamed at the Summit for falling behind expectations and impeding the implementation of the SES. The new tougher rules of SES 2+ will challenge the current situation with state owned monopolies responsible for providing air navigation services. European Commission’s underlying idea is to have stronger economic regulation and performance-driven instruments, with the ultimate aim of establishing a single aviation authority. Time will tell whether these measures will open the door for a Single European Sky without limits.