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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  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
  • To address this IATA and other associations lobbied for further regulatory reforms during 2012-13
  • In late 2013 the EC responded and finalized a package termed SESII+ which includes most of the needed reforms identified in the airline “Blueprint”.  The SESII+ package was progressed to a first reading in European Parliament in early 2014 and will now be subject to the normal European legislative process.

Cost of ATM Inefficiency in EU

  • In 2012, the failure to implement SES resulted in:
    • 10.8 million minutes of ATFM  delays costing an estimated €1.45 billion;
    • 7.8 million tonnes of wasted CO2
    • €4.5 billion in costs from flight inefficiencies
    • €12.7 billion total economic cost

(Source: Eurocontrol)

Comparison with US ATM

  • The 2012 US-EUR comparison of ATM related OPS performance identified that in 2011:
  • US controls 10.4 million km2 of airspace with one air navigation service provider (ANSP) and 20 en-route centers.
  • Europe controls 11.5 million km2 of airspace with 37 civil ANSPs and 63 en-route centers.
  • US ATM costs 34% less than in the EU
    • European (SES states) control costs €534 per flight hour;
    • US control costs €354 per flight hour.

(Source: Eurocontrol)


  • 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 as 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 Performance Scheme framework to take effect from 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 progressing infringement proceedings against member states, but little practical consequence is expected in terms of improved performance.
  • The first package of technologies to be deployed under the SESAR program has now been proposed by the EC and supported by IATA with certain caveats, for example the issues with harmonization between the SESAR approach and the US NextGen program.   
  • 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 Significant progress on SES is unlikely to be achieved without the key reforms such as the establishment of an independent economic regulator for air navigation charges  Whilst the SESII+ package was supported by the EU Parliament, it is opposed by most of the larger EU member states.

Future Considerations:

  • IATA will continue to work at a political, institutional 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.

December 2014


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