EU Transport Ministers agree to update blocked SES regulation from 2013. This could make the skies over Europe more efficient, and reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.

During 3734th Council meeting on Transport, Telecommunications and Energy, this week EU Ministers acknowledged the need to address airspace congestion and moved closer to updating the Single European Sky reform.

“While there were diverging views on the next legislative steps to be taken, a majority of member states advocated working on the basis of the SES II+ draft text and a complimentary analysis from the Commission on proposals for new measures,” according to the report of the outcome of the council meeting.

Airline industry group Airlines for Europe (A4E) celebrated the news, noting that it could resolve flight delays and ensure greater efficiencies in airspace management.

“We welcome yesterday’s agreement to move forward on this important update to the Single European Sky regulation, which was long overdue. That said, the decision doesn’t go far enough. By requesting an analysis from the European Commission regarding the impact of proposed new measures, we risk further delays in updating the regulation,” said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, Airlines for Europe (A4E). 

“We look forward to working with the EU Institutions to finalise the new regulation swiftly so that the necessary changes can take hold by 2024, when the current reference period (RP3) of the existing economic regulation comes to an end. In the meantime, we also expect the Ministers to resolve Europe’s ATM capacity and staff shortages to ensure a complete future-proofing of our ATM network,” Reynaert added.

Coping with growth while staying green

With global passenger traffic expected to double by 2037, and increasing public awareness of the environmental impact of aviation, Europe’s air traffic management will need to become more efficient. That will require new technologies, harmonized regulation and adequate infrastructure.

During the 2019 IATA Annual General Meeting, the association reported that implementation of Single European Sky (SES) could help cut 18 million tonnes of CO2 per year in Europe.

This summer, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on European governments and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) to make urgent improvements to European air traffic management. 

  • According to Eurocontrol, in June 2019 more than 210,000 flights (20% of the total flights operated) were delayed, with an average delay time of 17 minutes.

Europe is borderless on the ground but not in the air

While Europe enjoys borderless travel on the ground, there are still borders for flights to navigate in the skies above. The EU’s airspace is fragmented into jurisdictions managed by sovereign national airspace management bodies, with their own staffing policies and with their own ATM systems. The Single European Sky, introduced in 1999 aimed to allow more flexible airspace management that could cope with congestion or taxed resources over certain areas.

In March of this year, the SESAR Joint Undertaking, in charge of managing the technological pillar of Europe’s SES initiative, published its airspace architecture study, which details concrete proposals for Europe’s future airspace structure.

The study suggests a progressive transition strategy towards the Single European Airspace System in three 5 year-periods. If their proposals are acted upon, by 2035, Europe’s ATM network should be optimized, and capable of safely and effectively accommodating 16 million flights (+50% compared to 2017).