Driving airspace modernization in Europe

The Single European Sky remains mired in bureaucracy but individual countries can move modernization forward

The European economy could be boosted by €245 billion ($288bn) by 2035. All it would take is an airspace modernization program that would deliver the capacity needed to avoid the inefficiencies and delays that dog the existing system.

The Single European Sky (SES) was launched many years ago to tackle the problem.

Targets include a threefold increase in capacity, a tenfold increase in safety, a 50% reduction in ATM costs, and a 10% reduction in environmental impact—all compared with a 2004/2005 baseline.

Critics maintain that, given the lack of progress so far, SES will never reach those targets. In the 2012–2014 period, for example, European air navigation service providers (ANSPs) missed flight efficiency targets by a whopping 45%.

And though there are examples of technological improvements bringing greater interoperability across borders, the functional airspace blocks (FABs)—the cornerstones of SES—have not progressed as planned and regulatory oversight remains weak.

“The present situation in Europe is not acceptable,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“Last year, more than 1.3 million minutes of delays due to strikes and system failures were clocked up. And that does damage well beyond the airline industry.”

Ultimately, says de Juniac, the blame lies with the fragmentation of European airspace and the lack of strategic planning. “We need to raise awareness of the economic destruction caused by this outdated system and exacerbated by strikes. And if we take a positive view, there is a huge economic prize if Europe’s ATM challenges are fixed.”

Fundamentally different

European airspace modernization cannot be ignored. There will be an extra 500 million air passengers in Europe by 2035, compounding existing issues.

The industry’s efforts so far have not generated sufficient progress for significant benefits to be realized.

A Europe-wide solution is needed. But states are focused on national interests ahead of what would be most advantageous for the continent.

Without giving up on the big win of an €245 billion economic boost by 2035, IATA is adopting a new tactic—get the most consequential individual states to develop their air navigation services in partnership with airlines who fund the system, and in line with what is needed for SES.

The solution is a National Airspace Strategy (NAS). State-specific strategies would be based on smarter regulation principles. This includes genuine consultation with airspace users; a multi-stakeholder governance structure; a roadmap with agreed milestones; and supporting cost/benefit analyses.

Each NAS should integrate with the wider European airspace network to maximize efficiency, deliver SES goals, and align with environmental requirements.

Reliability will be a core requirement of a NAS. Business continuity must be put in place to ensure service quality, resilience must be built into processes, recovery plans are vital, and contingency capability must be established nationally and/or with FAB partners.

“This is not just about investment,” says Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe.

“This is about having an airspace strategy that is coherent on the national and regional level. A NAS will drive efficiencies and ultimately help Europe implement a Single European Sky. We are working very hard on collaborating with ANSPs and we are getting a positive response.”

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