More than ten years ago I worked on the original Single European Sky legislation (SES). With more than twenty years experience in the aviation industry, I am all too aware of the challenges faced by the sector in a rapidly changing global market. It is important that we strive to support this sector by giving it the best possible tools it needs to compete on a global scale, allowing European air carriers to maintain their market share.
In 2012 I drafted an 'Own Initiative Report' to address the lack of progress made on the implementation of this legislation, bringing together all the interested parties, from manufacturers to airlines, Eurocontrol to Air Navigations Service Providers. It was vital that the Commission and the Member States took action before the skies above Europe had ground to a halt due to congestion caused by lack of political will!
The SES legislation set out to ensure the safe and efficient use of European airspace, driven by the requirements of the airspace user and the need to provide for ever increasing air traffic, not only within the 27 Member States but also throughout the European Common Aviation Area. European airspace is amongst the busiest in the world, the current air traffic management system is extremely inefficient, with the management of airspace largely reflecting national borders. Significant areas are reserved for military use (even when this is not required) forcing civilian aircraft to fly longer more indirect routes. Unfortunately the creation of Functional Airspace Blocks (FABS) is well behind schedule and only two of the nine sectors, (UK and Ireland and the Danish - Swedish FAB are operational). The remaining Member States have missed the deadline of December 2012 by a mile, this is totally unacceptable.
Member States have been committed to these changes for at least ten years and they knew what would be required to achieve the SES. We simply cannot allow the vested interests of some to hold up progress, while we continue to lose business to emerging economies.
While the restructuring of airspace is one important aspect of the SES another is the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR), the project intended to bring Air Traffic Management, including ground to air communication, fully into the 21st century. While European airspace is amongst the safest in the world, the technology used to manage it has changed little since World War II. With ever greater traffic flows comes the need for more advanced technology. While our global competitors push ahead with their own ideas we must ensure that we move forward with ours. It is essential systems are interoperable so that we can sell them world wide, maintaining our competitive edge and increasing our market share. It is now time to move from the development phase to the deployment phase of the SESAR programme.
Working towards SES II+ provides an opportunity to clarify the scope and tasks of the supporting EU organisations to avoid duplication and ensure an efficient streamlined engagement with all the relevant stakeholders. There must be a call for greater urgency in order to avoid possible safety or operational risks. The benefits of the full and timely implementation of the SES are clear, creating jobs, reducing the environmental impact in a sector that continues to grow, ultimately making air traffic more efficient, reducing costs to the consumer and allowing more effective competition with our global competitors. These positive effects will be seen across all Member States, extending through the entire supply chain, including manufacturers, airlines, SMEs and into sectors such as tourism. This is simply good business.
While we can address many issues through this regulation and make airspace more efficient there is one other factor that must be addressed. The construction of physical infrastructure e.g. more runways is key to the growth and competitiveness of the industry. It is no use complaining about losing business to the Middle-East and Asia while we sit arguing. Unless we deal with this issue soon no matter how much capacity there is in the skies the lack of capacity on the ground will cripple the industry, causing a dramatic loss of business.
My report sent out a clear wake up call from the Parliament to the Commission and the Member States. Clearly we must push ahead with a full and timely implementation of the Single European Sky. It is good for the people of Europe, good for growth and good for business. In short the Member States need to wake up and smell the coffee.
Jacqueline Foster MEP
Conservative Spokesman on Transport