The current regulation concerning the Single European Sky (SES) was published in 2009 as Single European Sky II or SES II. In 2013, it was more than obvious that an overhaul was necessary and that an SES 2+ was discussed — but never finalised. On 22nd September 2020, the European Commission finally published its view on an updated SES regulatory framework that could achieve the original SES targets on the reduction of CO2, a reduction of delays and an increase in the cost efficiency of the ATM service provision.
The presented SES 2+ draft is an improvement compared to the existing regulation and it is welcomed. However, it remains uncertain whether the draft is sufficient to achieve the original SES goals. Particular areas requiring further clarification are linked to governance and the ability of airlines to contribute; the empowered Network Management function and its consequences as well as the way ATC Charges are linked with environmental targets.
A fully implemented Single and Digital European Sky (SES) is key to maintaining safety once traffic grows again. It will also be instrumental in:
- Reducing the environmental impact and CO2 footprint of aviation;
- Reducing ATC delays suffered by European passengers, and;
- Delivering a cost-efficient ATM service provision.
An updated SES regulatory framework that facilitates a transition to a clear future vision and includes strengthened economic regulation will help achieve these goals while also positively contributing to environmental targets outlined in the European Green Deal.
As such, the draft SES 2+ proposal is based on the 2013 draft regulation and more recent analyses, including the Wise Persons Group (WPG) report, the joint ATM Stakeholder Declaration as well as the ATM Masterplan. The latter two documents, in particular, highlight CO2 reductions, environmental benefits as well as digitalisation as the three driving forces behind the SES 2+ update.
The timeline foreseen by the European Commission envisions the adoption of the SES 2+ framework and related secondary regulation by 2024. A4E is prepared to work with the EU Institutions to urgently publish updated SES legislation in 2021. This would support the 2024 target for all regulations. In particular, the availability of the new “Performance and Charging Scheme” for the fourth reference period (RP4) beginning 1st January 2025, can also be ensured.
It is nevertheless imperative that member states do not hold up progress on the current draft SES 2+ discussions, as was the case over the last years and liaise with operational stakeholders to continue working on the draft.
The current SES 2+ draft is an improvement compared to the existing regulation and it is welcomed. However, we are concerned that the draft is not sufficient to achieve the original SES goals of reducing aviation’s environmental impact, minimizing ATC delays, improving the cost-efficiency of an ATM service provision, or ensuring the completion of the single aviation market. Therefore, we suggest opening a discussion to both clarify and increase the ambition of the new SES2+ regulation.
Particularly, we note that further improvements and/or clarity in the current draft are needed in the following areas:
- Network Management Function: Empowering the Network Manager to optimise the overall network efficiency is welcomed. However, further clarification is needed regarding the overall scope and its impact on airline planning, capacity management, the environment as well as the prioritisation of demand.
- Support for new developments: The voluntary introduction of the ADSP and the unbundling of services is welcomed — but we should explore a more ambitious solution. Moreover, the cost-efficient use of subcontracting as well as the efficient use of available resources, including ATCO capacity, must be ensured. Most importantly, capacity must meet demand and not vice-versa, aiming for a scalable system.
- Governance: Including airlines in all major decisions is appreciated. Nevertheless, the principles for meaningful consultations need to be part of the framework regulation.
- Modulation of charges: The use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) must be kept out of the scope of the regulation since it does not have a direct impact on airspace efficiency and it is not available to all airlines at this time. The effectiveness of modulation of charges to incentivise the environmental behaviour of airlines should be assessed taking into account the competitive effects and known alternatives e.g. “most capable — best served” needs to be further assessed. It needs to be ensured that the most effective incentivisation method is applied.
- Common route charge: The usage of this concept will bring no direct operational benefits and minor environmental effects.
- Environmental benefit: SES 2+ addresses Air Traffic Management and should focus on increasing the efficiency of the system. This efficiency increase could effectively reduce CO2 emissions by up to 10% per year — starting now. The elements that do not bring a direct impact on airspace efficiency improvements, e.g. SAFs, should be left to other forums.
- European economic regulator: The creation of a European economic regulator under EASA, which needs to be financed in full by ATC Charges requires clarification and a conclusive cost-benefit analysis.
- Only efficient use of (available) capacity is mentioned in the draft. The principle that capacity should be available where airlines need to fly to be most efficient is visibly absent in the draft.
Further changes are also needed when it comes to digitalisation. The Wise Persons Group report recommended, “Facilitate the transition towards the Digital European Sky by reviewing current licensing and training requirements for ATCOs, with full involvement of staff representatives.” This is a mandatory requirement if we want to have a scalable and resilient service provision. This regulation should lay the foundations for such operations. Finally, the shift towards digitalisation and new operational concepts requires the use of standardised, interoperable technologies.