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Single European Sky: A review on how Europe is improving Air Traffic Management
ATM-Air Traffic Management
ATC-Air Traffic Control
SES-Single European Sky
IFR-Instrumental Flight Rules
The Single European Sky is an ambitious project impulse by the EU in 1999 to unify the ATM over the European Sky. It is the answer to the general dissatisfaction that passengers and airlines were having back then due to the levels of delays they were experiencing. This initiative taken by the EC is willing to transfer the competences of ATC to an organism dependent to it and not to the state members, as it occurs nowadays. The main goal is to design, regulate and manage the EU’s Airspace in order to improve safety, efficiency and capacity.
It can be stated that European Air Space is one of the busiest in the world. The current situation is defined as follows:
Air Transport contributes to the European gross domestic product by 200 billion EUR.
Air Transport employs 3.1 million people.
Air Traffic Management costs 8 billion EUR per year.
Air Traffic is growing by 5% each year.
During peak periods, there can be 30.000 flights.
Air Transportation accounts for the 2% of the total CO2 emissions.
Air Transport delays reach high levels at some airports.
There is an estimation that the current European ATM System costs around 4 billion EUR divided as follows:
2 billion EUR due to fragmentation of Air Traffic Management Fragmentation.
1 billion EUR due to non-optimized flights.
1 billion EUR due to delays.
It is widely known that reforming and modernizing air traffic control is not an easy task. In fact, it is more complex than the deregulation of airlines and airports. If no action had been taken back in the 2000s, the actual situation would have been way worse than what is today and costing more money to the European countries.
History and Context
Until 1944, there were barely regulations regarding international air transport. After the Chicago Convention, which is far by now the most important convention regarding civil aviation, a new document was signed by the members present, which was the Convention on International Civil Aviation, where the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was founded and charged of managing and regulating international air travel. Its first article states that “Every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over airspace above its territory”.
Therefore, before the European Union was formed, each country had its own sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. When it was formed, this situation remained stagnant and each member had the control of its airspace. During the last 20 years and due to the liberalization of aviation in the EU in 1987, there was a thrive on demand for flights, specially towards Southern Europe due to tourism. The EU never expected to have such an increase on traffic and the system was not ready to handle the amount of flights operated in the 1990s. There was an increase on passenger’s dissatisfaction because flights were always delayed by a few hours turning down meetings and flight connections. Therefore, the EC decided to act into the problem by creating the Single European Sky Program, which is right now under implementation.
Goals, Implementation Path, Current Status and Achievements
The main goal of the Single European Sky is to update European ATM in order to meet the future capacity and safety needs. The main aim of the program is as follows:
- Triple the capacity of European Airspace with the goal of reducing delays.
- Increase in safety by having an overall control of the aircraft’s route from departure to arrival.
- Reducing environmental impact by 15% due to route optimization.
- Reduce the cost of ATM service to the users by 50%.
SES consists of two large packages of regulations as well as many supplemental rules. The first proposals were presented to the EC in 2001, but it was not until March 2014 when it was approved by the European Parliament and it started to be enforced. The first legislate package (SES-I) had the following objectives:
- To improve safety and efficiency of air transport in Europe.
- To increase in capacity to minimize delays.
- To enhance Air Navigation Services (ANS) and reduce fragmentation of ATM.
The first set did not meet the expectances that had set the program to improve the performance of ATM in Europe. Thus, a second package was adopted in 2009 after being discussed all parties (EC, EU Transport Ministers and EUROCONTROL). It was eventually approved by the European Parliament in late 2009. The second legislative package (SES-II) had the following objectives:
- To ensure the effectiveness of the new service offered and implementing the network manager (EUROCONTROL).
- To establish a single legal framework to develop homogenized safety rules. In order to fulfill this goal, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was created.
- To implement new technologies to introduce new operational procedures and increase flight safety.
- To improve airport management to increase capacity.
The amendments brought by the second package were as follow:
Functional Airspace Blocks
Route design between all airports under its jurisdiction to improve efficiency of airspace.
Eliminate state boundaries across EU members.
Based on operation requirements.
Improve aircraft routing to improve efficiency and reduce CO2 Emissions.
Unify operation regulations between all State Members.
Even though many steps have been taken to improve the sky’s management in Europe, ATM is still fragmented in Europe. The current organization is based on national boundaries and there are 67 airspace blocks impacting negatively in terms of safety, capacity and cost. It is as follows:
One of the implementations brought by the second legislative package was “The Functional Airspace Blocks”. This system is based on operational requirements and borderless between State Members. It wills to raise cooperation between Air Navigation Services Providers and National Service Providers. Working cooperatively, the goal of defragmenting the airspace with the positive effect on the increase in operational efficiency can be met. This implementation is expected to be complete by 2020, but delays are expected due to the complexity and regulations behind it. The final status will be as follow:
In order to make these changes possible, there had to be a technological improvement, and the Single European Sky ATM Research was in charge of this task. Even though part of the SES Program has been implemented, they are in continuous research in order to upgrade the European ATM whenever possible, mostly related to the growth of aircraft movements, but as always ensuring the maximum safety at the lowest possible cost for the consumer.
Comparison between the management of ATM between Europe and the United States of America
Nowadays, if we were to compare European ATM to American ATM, it could be stated that the former has a 50% lower performance and a 95% higher cost than the latter. In addition, the volume of flights controlled by American ATC is twice than by their colleagues in Europe. By focusing on IFR Flights, which actually are the ones that impact to travelers, US controls 60% more flights than Europe with less facilities and personnel.
By analyzing the differences between US and European control, the following differences pop up:
38% more employees
Even though the United States area is similar to Europe area, ATM costs much more due to the organization it has. This over cost is mainly caused by the higher number of en-route centers and processing data centers. Besides, there are many restricted and segregated areas which no allow overflying at any time of day impacting negatively on the operations.
After the recovery from the world economic crisis, there is an estimation that air traffic will increase by a 6% each year in Europe, with the customer’s expectance of having a better experience. The European Union is acting to guarantee that SES is fully operational by 2020.
Mainly, the SES’ idea is to move from a national level to an EU level, but many questions regarding its feasibility may arise and it will never be identical to the American one due to countries willing to control their airspace. Even though it is still divided into several national air traffic control, there has been a paramount improvement since the 1990s. A close approach to the US model will ideal, and that is the main will of this program.
Every actor of the program should understand the advantages of a quick implementation. On the one hand, the system will have a better performance with fewer employees reducing operation’s cost. On the other hand, cooperation between parties must continue to assure the proper implementation of the program. There is a general agreement in that SES is not delivering the expected results, mainly due to the institutional part.
In short, the Single European Sky turned to be one of the most ambitious programs regarding transportation in the European Union. Future works, such as improvement in avionics, crew training or communication infrastructures, should be focus on improving efficiency and costs to safeguard European sky.
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- N.A. van Antwerpen, “The Single European Sky”,2002, 27 Air and Space Law, Issue 2, pp. 90–134
 Air Navigation Service Provider
 Area Control Center
 Approach Control Unit
 Air Route Traffic Control Centre
 Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities
 Air Traffic Management
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