With 27,000 flights crossing the continent every day, Europe's skies risk becoming completely saturated unless the airspace is organised more efficiently. The European Union launched the Single European Sky initiative in the late 1990s to remove national boundaries in the sky, enabling planes to take more direct routes and making air travel safer, greener and more competitive. However, progress on this project has proved very slow. MEPs are currently looking at plans to improve implementation.
The cost of fragmentation
European airspace is structured around national boundaries: 28 national air traffic control systems managing about 60 air traffic centres divided into more than 650 sectors. This fragmentation means more inefficiency. Flights are often unable to take direct routes, making flight times, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions higher than they need to be. The cost of this is about €5 billion a year, which is passed on to passengers.
Delays in implementation
The Single European Sky project was launched in the late 1990s. A first package of measures called SES1 was adopted in 2004, but as it did not produce the desired results, an updated version known as SES2 was initiated in 2009. The current SES2+ proposal is intended to accelerate the reform of air navigation services as there are still significant delays in the implementation.
The new proposal
The SES 2+ proposal deals with two major issues:
- The insufficient efficiency of air navigation: removing national boundaries will enable the creation of shorter routes, thus reducing fuel consumption. The organisational and budgetary separation of national supervisory authorities from the air traffic control organisations will improve both safety and oversight.
- Fragmented air traffic management: the current 28 national air traffic blocks will be replaced by nine regional ones that have already been created but are not fully operational yet. The SES 2+ will also make the target setting more independent, transparent and enforceable to improve the performance.
The transport committee voted on the proposal on 30 January. It will have to be approved by the Parliament and member states before it can enter into law. The plenary vote has been scheduled for March.