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Time For Action

Special Report - European Aviation

A Single European Sky (SES) has been on the political agenda for decades. But even an Icelandic volcano venting its anger has failed to budge the political inertia.

“I call on heads of state to end the decades of embarrassment caused by this European failure and set a date for the transport ministers to deliver the $6.5 billion (EUR5 billion) savings that a real SES will bring,” says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA Director General and CEO.


SES will end decades of inefficiency. The Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR)—the technical component of the SES—will:

  • Increase system capacity by 70% 
  • Reduce average delays to a minute or less 
  • Cut user costs by 50% 
  • Reduce the environmental impact per flight 10% by 2020 
  • Improve safety levels as traffic increases by 70%

Currently there are 37 air navigation service providers (ANSPs) in Europe, costing the industry close to $15.3 billion (EUR12 billion). Close to $4.5 billion (EUR3.5 billion) of this is due to cost inefficiency. By 2020, about 20% of flights are expected to be delayed if there is no modernization of the system.

SES progress is very slow. A performance improvement scheme with binding targets in four key areas (cost efficiency, environment/flight efficiency, safety, and capacity/delays) is expected by the end of 2010. And following the ash cloud crisis, the European Commission called for the accelerated implementation of the nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), which are due to come into effect in 2012. The FABs will increase airspace capacity by 50%, saving on average 17.5km and 72kg of fuel per flight.

“Despite noble words after the volcano incident about accelerating the Single European Sky, the harsh truth is that we have seen no commitment to bring forward key milestones and set a final date for achievement,” says Jeff Poole, IATA Director, Industry Charges, Fuel and Taxation. “Just as important, we feel no sense of urgency or drive to secure the benefits earlier. In short, we need more, sooner. Reductions of $6.5 billion in costs and 16 million tonnes in CO2 emissions are still waiting to be realized.”

The First Fab

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and NATS have published the 2010-13 FAB Plan, which outlines a strategy to integrate North Atlantic, domestic (Irish/UK) and European traffic flows. The idea has already led to:

  • The creation of a route-free bloc of upper airspace, which allows airlines to find their optimum flight paths
  • Night fuel saving routes
  • The first joint airspace development in Europe, which has improved efficiency

“This plan includes careful thought around how to maximize the operational capability of our airspace,” says Donie Mooney, Director of Operations for IAA.


Additional information

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