Single Sky benefits obscured by low growth

Cash-strapped air traffic control authorities are warning airlines that any efficiency savings derived from unifying Europe’s most heavily congested airspace will be far less than previously promised due mainly to a sharp drop in traffic levels.
Even so, the leaders of the FABEC functional airspace block that is designed to unify the complex airspace of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland insist that the Single European Sky initiative is still worth pursuing.
At a May 11 summit in Brussels, Patrick Gandil, chairman of the provisional FABEC Council, stated that although the first visible results were promising, any financial gain for airlines would be ‘substantially lower’ than calculations made four years ago mainly due to lower traffic volumes.
As a consequence, Daniel Weder, who is chairman of a body consisting of seven chief executives from FABEC air traffic control organisations, said it would only estimate the value of those projects whose financial benefit could be readily calculated in its overall cost-benefit analysis, meaning that several ongoing projects would not be quantified.
One such project covers the Project Central/West, a redrawing of the airspace at the Dutch-German border which will see military airspace between Amsterdam and Frankfurt disappear by 2016, allowing a ‘free flow’ between both hubs.
“The project status is green – the general benefit is obvious. Currently, the route design is being finalised. As a consequence, in March when we did our overall cost-benefit analysis we did not have the data – routes, flights per route etc. needed for the calculation of the cost-benefit analysis. We are sure they are huge, but it makes no sense to calculate just on the basis of feelings or assumptions.,” said a FABEC spokesman.
Another project whose benefits will not be included is XMAN which will introduce cross-centre arrival management, meaning that, for example, an approach to Frankfurt will start in Maastricht UAC via pre-sequencing. XMAN will be rolled out throughout FABEC-from 2014 onwards. although the exact methodology to calculate the benefits has yet to be determined.
“Both projects are proceeding well, but at the time when we were calculating the overall FABEC cost-benefit analysis we did not have the correct data or methodology available to insert all projects into the calculation. As we are in an implementation phase and not in the feasibility phase we are aiming for realistic ‘proven’ figures,” said FABEC.”The overall net present value of FABEC until 2025 amounts to €732m.”
“The real benefit for the users, however, is much higher,” said Weder who explained that revised estimates by FABEC members indicate a financial contribution of around €500m by 2015.”This amount is based on the reduction of unit rates as foreseen in the national performance plans as well as on less income due to decreasing traffic – an effect which has to be covered under the new regulation by the ANSPs mainly,” said Weder.
Most major European airports and major civil airways and military training areas are located in FABEC airspace which covers 1.7 million km. FABEC currently handles around 5.5 million flights per year which accounts for 55 per cent of all European air traffic.
Under European legislation setting out the Single European Sky programme, member states have to provide a set of comprehensive documents such as a treaty or a common airspace policy by 24 June. Additionally, a cost-benefit analysis has to prove the overall-added value of establishing a Functional Airspace Block such as FABEC.
Earlier this month, Europe’s Network Manager Eurocontrol announced that European flights were expected to decline by 1.3 per cent in 2012. The first three months of 2012 saw a total of 2.12 million flights in Europe, a decrease of 3.3 per cent on the first three months of 2011, after allowing for the leap year.