Single European Sky: Council agrees its position on air traffic management reform
The Council recently (03 June 2021) agreed its position (‘general approach’) on the reform of the Single European Sky. The aim of the reform is to improve European airspace management and the air navigation services system in order to increase capacity, improve cost-efficiency and increase the system’s ability to adapt to variations in traffic, while also trying to reduce aviation’s CO₂ footprint.
The package consists of an amended proposal for the recast of the Single European Sky regulation (SES 2+) and a proposal for a regulation amending the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) basic regulation.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Minister for Infrastructure and Housing of Portugal, President of the Council recently said:
“Any aviation reform must put safety first. And it is member states who are responsible for the safety of their airspace under the Chicago convention, just like they are responsible for safety, security and defence in general. No sector has suffered more from the COVID crisis than aviation. It is therefore crucial that the reforms be based on thorough analysis, and that they do not increase costs for airlines, air navigation service providers or any other stakeholders.”
The Council agrees on the key objectives of the Single European Sky: the reform must reinforce safety, respond to capacity needs and help cut emissions, while being cost-effective. It should also contribute to the smooth and safe inclusion of drones in the airspace.
While pursuing the same objectives, the Council’s position differs from the Commission’s proposal regarding the best ways to achieve them.
Under the Council’s position, the national supervisory authority, responsible for monitoring performance, must be independent from air navigation service providers. It will be possible for member states to merge economic and safety oversight functions in the same administrative entity, instead of being obliged to create a separate entity for economic oversight as proposed by the Commission. The Council’s solution cuts red tape and adapts to existing organisational models.
Air navigation service providers will also only need one single certificate, instead of two certificates as initially proposed by the Commission. This single certificate will cover both the safety and economic aspects necessary for providers to operate within the EU, meaning that they only have to go through one process. The two aspects are also linked, as financial robustness and insurance cover are pre-conditions for safe operation.
Member states may decide to authorise the opening of certain air navigation services to market conditions. This allows them to ensure that any deregulation of air traffic management is based on a thorough cost-benefit analysis and is not detrimental to the safety or security of air traffic management operations.
National supervisory authorities and the Commission will together assess the performance of air navigation services, in accordance with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles. The Commission may designate a performance review body (PRB), which has an advisory role, to assist in this process and ensure that local targets are consistent with objectives at EU level. No new structures are to be created under the EASA in this respect, as doing so would be likely to increase administrative costs for users without offering any proven benefits.
No changes will be made with regard to en route charges for air navigation services: member states will continue to set their national unit rates in accordance with common criteria and the Eurocontrol multilateral agreement, which allows local conditions to be taken into account.
The general approach strengthens the protection of the environment as a key performance area, in line with the European Green Deal. Environmental considerations should, like safety, be a priority when planning and assessing the performance of air navigation service providers.
Member states will have the option to implement variable charges in order to encourage the efficient provision of flights and improve environmental performance. Moreover, the Council mandates the Commission to study the feasibility of varying charges at EU level. The study will allow a careful analysis of different interdependences and factors to be carried out – taking into account, for example, not only fuel consumption and trajectories but also altitude and speed, non-CO2 effects and NOx emissions.
The Council’s position aims to strengthen the network perspective by adding new network functions and by giving the current network manager Eurocontrol additional, clearly delineated tasks so that it can better contribute to the sustainable and efficient use of the airspace. These tasks include coordinating air traffic flows to optimise them from a network perspective and coordinating and supporting the management of network crises. Giving operational stakeholders, including the military and industry, a major role will also allow local and security aspects to be taken into account.
Finally, the Council’s position reinstates functional airspace blocks (FABs) as a basis for enhanced cooperation and coordination across national borders. FABs have been in operation since 2004 and have already improved the performance of the air traffic management network. The establishment of FABs will continue to be based on international agreements and will remain voluntary.
The recent agreement on the Council’s general approach allows the presidency to launch talks with the European Parliament on the final text.
The Commission launched the Single European Sky initiative in 1999 to improve the performance of air traffic management and air navigation services through better integration of European airspace. The last major legislative initiative within the SES framework, SES 2, was concluded in 2009.
The current, amended proposal from September 2020 follows an interim update of the SES rules, called SES 2+, which was proposed by the Commission in 2013 but was never concluded.
- Amended proposal for a regulation on the implementation of the Single European Sky – Council’s general approach
- Proposal for a regulation amending regulation 2018/1139 as regards the capacity of the EU Aviation Safety Agency to act as Performance Review Body of the Single European Sky – Council’s general approach
- SES Council general approach – report for the Council
- Single European Sky (European Commission)
- Functional airspace blocks (FABs) (European Commission)
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