Brussels mulling next steps in bid to kickstart Single Sky revamp

European ATM chiefs have identified where improvements must be made in a bid to restore confidence in the Single Sky framework, writes Jenny Beechener.

As Europe’s air traffic management (ATM) modernisation programme nears the end of the deployment phase, with completion of the Pilot Common Project (PCP) due in 2022, industry representatives met in Bucharest at the start of June 2019 to identify next actions.

Since the European Commission appointed the SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM) in 2014, the SDM Alliance has initiated 349 modernisation projects involving 94 partners in 27 European states and adjacent countries. With more than 100 already completed, annual savings exceeded €30 million savings in operational efficiency in 2019, and are predicted to rise to €349 million by 2030.

However insufficient capacity and rising demand across the airspace has prompted the European Commission (EC) to look for new solutions. Speaking at the from the SESAR/EC conference ‘Delivering the future of aviation together’, the head of the EC’s Single European Sky (SES) unit Christine Berg said the framework put in place over the past 15 years has not fulfilled its objectives: “We need new scenarios and remove some of the existing ones to meet the challenges and opportunities on the horizon.”

One of the reasons behind the capacity shortfall is the lack of scalable capacity. “There is no silver bullet, no one solution, it requires a combination of operational and technological improvements and market forces,” supported by a stronger link between innovation and economic regulation. “It is not rocket science,” she added.

Recommendations from the Wise Persons Group report published in April 2019 include establishing a ‘strong, independent and technically competent economic regulator at European level,’ as is the case for energy transmission and Europe’s telecoms network. “If created in this area with a permanent stock of experts there is a chance economic regulation can be made simpler,” said Berg. Other factors need to play a part, including an expanded social dialogue which “needs to transform fundamentally” to create a common vision for the future which stretches from the chief executive down to the staff.

Berg also called for standard solutions which can be deployed by all stakeholders. “SES is hampered by lack of interoperability and standardisation,” she said. “The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) needs to be present in the large scale demonstrations and this ultimately leads to standards. This is taking place in the drone sector,” with a focus on performance, rather than technological, standards. EASA clearly needs to part of the process if it is to meet certification requirements of an expanding data services sector, as envisaged in the Airspace Architecture Study (AAS).

Such a network-centric approach relies on the Eurocontrol Network Manager (NM) expanding tactical flow management activities and “synchronising operations and technology,” according to its director Iacopo Prissinotti. The Wise Persons Report also calls on the NM to ‘identify the ATM infrastructure needed to support the future development of the network’, including ‘transition towards a digital environment in consultation with air navigation service providers (ANSPs)’. Supporting this process, the EC is due to release its proposals for a new Common Project by the end of 2019.

Building on lessons learned, SDM general manager Nicolas Warinsko added it is important that the assets developed over past five years are not ‘forgotten’. “The target set five years’ ago is no longer what we need, however the spirit of working together and the industry’s willingness to embrace new opportunities will be key to bringing more performance into the network.”