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Fact Sheet: Single European Sky (SES)


  • In 1999 the European Commission (EC) proposed the creation of a Single European Sky (SES) for air traffic management (ATM)
  • The SES project was formally launched in 2004 to rationalize the fragmented European airspace into nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs)
  • The high-level goals of SES (1) are by 2020 to:
    • Enable a three-fold increase in capacity to reduce delays, both on the ground and in the air
    • Improve the safety performance by a factor of 10
    • Enable a 10% reduction in the effects flights have on the environment and
    • Provide ATM services to the airspace users at a cost of at least 50% less
  • The first package of proposals in 2004 provided limited progress and benefits
  • Following strong lobbying by IATA and other associations, the EC adopted a second package of measures in July 2008
  • SES Package II was adopted by the Council of the European Union in March 2009 and came into effect in November 2009
  • Ten years of debate has established a so-called framework of regulation and performance, but little actual benefit in much needed efficiency improvement and defragmentation of the European ATM system

Cost of ATM Inefficiency in EU

  • In 2012, the failure to implement SES resulted in: 
    • 10.8 million minutes of ATFM (2) delays costing an estimated €1.45 billion; 
    • 7.8 million tonnes of wasted CO2
    • €4.5 billion in costs from flight inefficiencies 

(Source: Eurocontrol)

Comparison with US ATM

  • European air navigation is 70% less efficient than in North America
    • US controls 10.4 million km (2) of airspace with one air navigation service provider (ANSP) and 20 en-route centers
    • Europe controls 11.5 million km (2) of airspace with 38 ANSPs and 63 en-route centers
  • In 2009, US ATM costs were 49% less than in the EU:
    • European control costs €573 per flight hour
    • US control costs €294 per flight hour

(Source: Eurocontrol)


  • Despite the developments of the SES II regulatory package, progress to achieve the SES high-level goals is not on track  
  • The current Performance Scheme for 2012-14 is not delivering the expected performance improvements: 
    • States are failing to meet the already watered-down cost efficiency target. ANSPs at the same time have far exceeded expected profitability levels with an aggregate €326M surplus in 2012; a 50% increase over state plans and in the face of much lower traffic levels
  • The revised Performance Scheme framework for 2015-2019 lacks much needed enforceability, provides for “uncontrollable costs” to be added to the agreed charges, allows for congestion charging and defers again the inclusion of terminal charge target setting  
  • Progress on Functional Airspace Blocks is recognized to have not met the 4 December 2012 deadline as stipulated by EU law. The European Commission is now expected to progress infringement proceeding against member states 
  • The first package of technologies to be deployed under the SESAR program has now been proposed by the EC. While the overall cost-benefit analysis is positive, there are aspects that are net present value negative and the payback timeframes typically in the range of seven to ten years. Harmonization with NextGen also remains a very significant topic for resolution. Notably, the performance improvements promised during the definition phase of SESAR, will now be much reduced and much delayed    
  • In order to progress SES and influence further regulatory reforms, IATA, the Association for European Airlines and the European Regions Airlines Association developed an airline “Blueprint” for SES. The Blueprint calls for further regulatory reform and identifies three key needs:
    • A Binding performance scheme through the establishment of an independent European regulator for air navigation charges. The independent economic regulator should establish milestone EU targets to be achieved by each State or FAB, control the conformity of the performance plans with these targets and require appropriate corrective measures when necessary
    • The rationalization of ATM structures through opening up services to competition and a reduction in the number of air traffic control centers across Europe to not more than 40, and cutting the ratio of back-office staff to ATCOs from 2.4 to 1.6
    • Improving the efficiency of the network through the modernization of the ATM system 
  • Acknowledging the lack of progress and in response to the extensive advocacy by IATA and other associations, the EC agreed to progress a further package of regulatory reforms, termed “SESII+” in mid-2013. 
  • Although in some respects SESII+ does not go far enough, IATA supports this package and the Commission’s aims. However, the package is believed to be opposed by a number of key European states captured by interest groups intent on maintaining the status quo and resisting the necessary reforms to realize a Single European Sky  

Future Considerations

  • Whilst the European Parliament recognizes the need for change and the European Commission has the mandate to facilitate change, resistance from states, ANSPs and some interest groups must be overcome using the SESII+ package to make real progress in the next few years
  • IATA will continue to work at the structural and operational level for delivery of real improvements. We will continue to advocate for SES as a means to improve European economic competitiveness, a vehicle for job creation and an essential tool to reduce the environmental impact of flight

(1) Relative to 2004/2005 performance levels
(2) The duration between the last Take-Off time requested by the aircraft operator and the Take-Off slot given by the CFMU

Updated: December 2013


Additional information

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