12 NOVEMBER 2018


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Article from BTNews 12 NOVEMBER 2018

COMMENT: The EU’s aerial traffic jam

After a quarter-century of talks, Europe still does not appear able to agree within itself how to sort out aerial navigation. This is the uncomfortable fact lurking behind last week’s call by airline lobbying group A4E for the EU to take “immediate action” to remove what it called European airspace “inefficiencies”.

BTN cannot argue with the call for action – A4E’s plea came as chief operating officers of Europe’s leading airlines, accounting for nearly half a billion passengers a year, met in an A4E forum in Brussels to urge the EU to tackle bottlenecks in the system. Preaching to the converted, it said such bottlenecks had “provoked unacceptable delays last summer, frustrating travel plans for millions of passengers”.

But the history of the situation is enough to make any observer cynical and in the present febrile state of European politics it is difficult to see the A4E initiative making any more headway than much of what has gone before. The faint hope is that a forceful Brexit will help to change the situation. Sometimes it is necessary to show the Brits mean business.

The EU has a plan called the Single European Sky (SES) policy. It is this which has been stalled for a near-unbelievable 25 years, as recalled in a report in the Financial Times quoting an interview with EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc.

The FT report said SES, which aims to create a unified EU air traffic control area to increase capacity and cut disruption, was a priority for the commissioner but “she has found her priorities confounded by uncooperative member states and worker strikes”.

A4E last week did not mention SES by name but slipped in a near-identical new name of its own – the Seamless European Sky vision – and said it was calling for the creation of a future programme which would integrate the different national airspaces under a single operational concept.

Those at the meeting, who as well as airlines included the Association of Air Navigation Service Providers (CANSO), European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) and Eurocontrol, signed up to an A4E “Efficient Airspace Declaration”. Under it, EU member states would “maintain sovereignty of their airspace while cooperating across borders in order to facilitate seamless and more efficient flight operations on behalf of passengers”.

A4E hopes the declaration will kickstart new moves to sort out the situation, with members signing up to a number of pledges including seeing that initial projects from the European Commission’s Airspace Architecture Study and Wise Persons Group are jointly agreed and launched in early 2019.

Other pledges include the Eurocontrol Network Manager implementing a coordinated approach to oversee the operation of the network for summer 2019; and defining and implementing network measures with airlines and providers so there is sufficient capacity for 2019.

The forum also undertook to see that any new regulation is “future-proof” and takes into account current operational and technological advancements.

A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert said: “The reputation of Europe is at stake. Reform of EU airspace must be a top priority for the next Commission and all involved national bodies.

“Passengers deserve an efficient European aviation industry and that can only be delivered with a seamless approach to EU airspace.”

As noted above, BTN agrees. But with a 25-year history of delay, it is hard to be optimistic. One can only hope the weight of A4E combined with the memory of this year’s summer of discontent will – this time – be enough to break the logjam.

But don’t hold your breath.


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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Dave Reid, Reading

CANSO is the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, AN association of air navigation service providers. It's not THE Association of Air Navigation Service Providers which (if it existed) would be AANSP. It doesn't.

David Learmount, London

The SES is a good, workable plan with proper objectives at the Eurocontrol/European Commission level. The problem is that ATM is still effectively divided up by nations and borders because member states don't want to let go of their slice of the ATM pie. There is no silver bullet, because national politicians equate ATM with sovereignty, and because it's a high-tech, skilled industry they want part of it. As such it can only evolve as fast as national politicians will let it. One more point: smaller states want to hold on to what they've got, but when told they need to invest in their kit such investment is as the bottom of their political agenda.