Europe mostly eliminated borders on the ground, allowing for the smooth passage of people and goods, but in the skies the story is very different. Switching between 37 service providers and 63 ATC centers results in inefficient flight routings, longer trip times, increased delays, and excess fuel burn causing surplus carbon emissions. After years of debate the Single European Sky (SES), addressing these issues, is set to move forward.
An efficient air traffic management system means more direct routes and less energy used, leading to less emissions and lower costs for our airlines. Today’s proposal to revise the Single European Sky will not only help cut aviation emissions by up to 10% from a better management of flight paths, but also stimulate digital innovation by opening up the market for data services in the sector. With the new proposed rules we help our aviation sector advancing on the dual green and digital transition.– Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean
Negotiations over a Single European Sky started nearly two decades ago, yielding minimal progress. In relaunching the SES debate now, however, the European Commission expects a quick adoption. And it specifically credits Brexit with opening the opportunity:
A key reason for the stalling of discussions was the disagreement between the United Kingdom and Spain over the status of the Gibraltar airport. Following Brexit, this obstacle no longer exists.
What is included in the Single European Sky proposal?
With the industry focused on reducing carbon emissions a big change under the new SES proposal will be to charge airlines for navigation services “according to the environmental footprint of the airspace user.” And the rates will take into account that the average emissions should’ve been 6% lower in 2019, making more efficient use of the airspace a money-saving move for the airlines and a necessity for air traffic control to deliver. The cost of delivering the service is also expected to be reduced through coordinated purchasing of air navigation data services. The proposal posits that “the purchase of such data on a European data market, rather than having all air navigation services producing the data themselves, is expected to reduce costs.”
The Single European Sky plan will also decouple en route air traffic services from other air navigation services, such as air traffic data services, communication, navigation and surveillance services, aeronautical information services, meteorological services, as well as terminal air traffic services. Currently run by Eurocontrol, the Network Manager role will be strengthened for en route services, especially related to optimization of airspace design and air traffic flow within and between national borders. Oversight will be delivered by a new Performance Review Board, a dedicated branch of EASA.
Modernization and expansion
A likely winner from this program, other than the airlines, passengers and the environment, is the Iris air navigation program from Inmarsat and ESA. As a cornerstone component of the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program, Iris aims to raise today’s airspace capacity, manage traffic more efficiently, and reduce the environmental impact of flying. It is also explicitly referenced in the proposal
The SESAR project is aimed at enabling the safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable development of air transport by modernising the European and global ATM system. In order to contribute to its full effectiveness, proper coordination between the phases of the project should be ensured. The European ATM Master Plan should result from the SESAR definition phase, and should contribute to achieving the Union-wide performance targets.
Aireon’s space-base ADS-B aircraft tracking program could also benefit as the market for the data coalesces.
The program also includes new guidance for the integration of data sharing with drone systems across Europe. As part of developing a robust regulatory framework to ensure safe UAS traffic management the proposal requires certain common information services data regarding manned aerial vehicles to be made available at marginal cost for drone systems.
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