29 JULY 2013


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Article from BTNews 29 JULY 2013

COMMENT: The Single European Sky

You only have to read the autobiography “Shaking the Skies” by Giovanni Bisignani, former Director General and CEO of IATA, to appreciate the aviation wars he fought during his 10 years in charge, firstly with his own airline members, and once they were on his side, Governments and other high powered interested parties.  His greatest success was e-ticketing, now the very heart of the industry, but opposed by some at the time.  Giovanni’s other major battle was, and still is, The Single European Sky (SES).  But he senses victory.  At London’s Aviation Club in the Spring (See BTN 29 April) David McMillan, Chair of the Flight Safety Foundation and former Eurocontrol Chief, said he thought it might happen by 2019.  Giovanni is more optimistic and says it could be in place in three years' time.  Eurocontrol was founded in 1960! 

Brussels has woken up from its long sleep and proposed a strengthening of the legislative basis for the SES. 

The SES is good news for the passenger, good news for the environment and good news for the airlines.  Travel time would be reduced by 10 minutes on average and there would be improvements in safety and capacity. CO2 emissions would be reduced as would air traffic control charges.

In numbers, the SES aim is to bring a threefold increase in capacity in crucial areas by 2020 compared with 2005.  It will reduce airspace user charges by 50% and it will improve environmental performance by 10%.

So, in theory, the SES is the perfect win-win-win scenario.

Why then has it been such a struggle to get this project moving?  Although we have taken a step toward the ideal, it should not disguise the fact that the SES is still a shameful story for Europe.

In 2001, as Chairman of the Association of European Airlines, I started a campaign to get the SES moving. Through seatback cards, we managed to get more than 70,000 signs of support from passengers, all of which were sent to European Ministers of Transport.

In response, the European Commissioner, my good friend Karel Van Miert, showed me a document that had been prepared.  It said that in five years time the SES would be a reality.  It was an attempt to keep me happy and quiet.  But things didn't work out that way.  During my time at IATA I kept on shouting politely that the SES was a political fiasco.

Targets that were put in place were watered down by States and were not hit even then.  Weak objectives in 2012-2014 meant no real improvements were needed and things haven't got much better in the proposed targets for 2015-2019.

The 2011 Performance Review Report, for example, showed that there was still 15 billion in extra costs for airspace users as a result of inefficiencies. Just two out of nine functional airspace blocks – the foundation stones of the SES – had been established by the end of 2012.

And we certainly do not need so many air traffic control centres when the job could be done much more efficiently with considerably fewer.  At the moment, there are 38 ANSPs in Europe and 63 air traffic control centres.  In the United States, there is just one ANSP and 20 ATCCs even though its airspace (10.4 million sq km) is similar in size to European airspace (11.5 million sq km).  The United States is able to handle 67% more flights with 38% fewer staff.

Even those state-sponsored European ANSPs that have lost sight of the meaning of productivity will not lose out, however.  IATA doesn't believe the SES will force any European air traffic control officers out of work.  In fact, it is estimated that the implementation of SES will create an additional €419bn for European GDP and an extra 320,000 jobs.

By the time Europe hits 20 million flights annually, the modernization of air traffic management systems should deliver a 300kg fuel saving per flight, and a reduction in CO2 emissions of 12 million tonnes.

So, while we should applaud the effort to get the SES over the finishing line, Brussels must get serious about the penalties for countries that fail to deliver on time.

And what should that timeframe be?  There is talk of a 2020 deadline but this doesn't provide any sense of urgency given the importance of the work and the relatively straightforward improvements necessary.  Technically, we know what needs to be done and for every year we waste, more than 8 million tonnes of CO2 are unnecessarily pumped into the atmosphere.

I believe the SES could be in place in three years' time.  It has become a test of President Barroso's leadership and the European Commission's commitment to the environment.  It should be seen as an opportunity to complete a fantastic project that will bring many benefits.

But I still worry that the political will is not there!

Giovanni Bisignani

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