Brussels to enforce Single Sky compliance

Brussels has admitted that current Single European Sky legislation lacks sufficient clout and that opposition from national air traffic control agencies has forced it to consider tough new rules to secure more control over the process.

Speaking at a Single European Sky summit in Cyprus hosted by the European Commission and the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said: “I have always said that the Single European Sky is my top aviation priority. It is too important to be allowed to fail. We have fallen seriously behind in our original ambitions.

“After more than 10 years, the core problems remain the same: too little capacity generating the potential for a negative impact on safety at too high a price. There are some signs of change, but overall progress is too slow and too limited. We need to think of other solutions and apply them quickly. There is too much national fragmentation. Promised improvements have not materialised.”

The Commission’s new plan of action will see greater powers given to Eurocontrol, the network manager that supervises European air traffic control, stricter targets, and greater powers for the Commission to pursue infringement action against member states that are not co-operating.

The Commission says some of the largest nations including France, Germany and the UK have been particularly uncooperative. “It looks like infringement actions may well be necessary,” said Kallas whose transport directorate estimates that if the situation in Europe persists, congestion costs will increase by around 50% by 2050. “Time is running out,” said Kallas.

In an infringement proceeding, the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, presses a member country over failure to enforce an EU law. If the country fails to act, it can take the country to court and seek fines.

Kalla said 2012 was a critical year for the Single European Sky (SES), with four key deliverables including nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to be operational by December 2012 and warned that, based on progress to date, Europe is still a long way from creating a single airspace.

He said FABs needed to add proper value: “At the moment it is clear that they will make little if any contribution towards an integrated and defragmented airspace.” He announced that in order to ensure the necessary progress, the Commission will use its existing enforcement powers to the maximum, if necessary including infringements.

In addition, in Spring 2013, the Commission will bring forward proposals to strengthen the existing SES legal framework, with a view to accelerating the on-going reforms.

The new regulation will also attempt to split up state owned monopolies responsible for air navigation, separating regulatory and oversight tasks from operational and service provision activities leading to the establishment of a single aviation authority.

Kallas warned member states last November that 2012 would be a “make or break year”, adding that “our plans to modernise Europe’s air traffic control are falling behind”.

At that point the Commission said that only five nations: Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were on track to meet targets of cutting costs and improving flight capacity.

With EU airspace divided into 650 sections that are run by 60 air traffic control towers and manged by 27 national systems forcing aircraft to cover longer distances. The commission estimates that the additional cost to companies, and thus passengers, amounts to around €5 billion ($6.4 billion) a year.

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