The Single European Sky – still an airlines’ dream? It could already exist.

By Achim Baumann 

On 02 December 2019, the 3,734th meeting of Europe’s Transport Council took place under the leadership of the Finnish Council Presidency. Unfortunately, the Ministers’ views on what to do with the outdated Single European Sky regulation were diverging, to say the least. Rather than taking a clear decision on what to do next, the Council settled on the least common denominator: Start with the existing (SESII+) draft and provide us with an analysis from the European Commission regarding the impact of proposed new measures (otherwise known as an “impact analysis” in Brussels terms). 

While each Minister individually acknowledged the urgency of updating the regulation (it’s been blocked by select member states since 2013) — an agreement on what the future regulation should regulate was seemingly absent from the discussions. 

The good news is, Europe’s airlines have a very clear view on this, which perhaps might be useful to guide the Ministers in the next phase of this journey. It goes something like this: 

In the (hopefully) not so distant future, thanks to a brand new infrastructure, airspace will be just as safe — or even safer than it is today. Regulation will be simplified. Delays will be virtually non-existent. Aircraft will fly the most efficient trajectories, thereby reducing aviation’s environmental footprint. 

How? European airspace will operate in a system which is network-centric in terms of flight planning, but flight-centred in its daily operations. Technology and humans will work hand-in-hand to form an integrated air traffic management system resulting in minimum interventions, environmentally-efficient operations, no delays and an efficient provision of capacity in the air and on the ground. 

The airspace itself will be considered a vital piece of European infrastructure. Its use will be non-discriminatory and will allow the sovereign needs of European member states to be met in a non-disruptive manner. 

Operating in an open market, services will be unbundled and fully separated from the infrastructure. Providers will be free to offer their services (in communication, navigation, surveillance or managing the traffic) to various airspace users – regardless of the provider’s physical location. Airlines, in turn, will be able to choose whichever provider best meets their business needs. 

Today, this still seems like a dream – nevertheless the principles, plans and technology to make it a reality already exist. The time for excuses or procrastination is over. Political hurdles on a European and/or global level can be overcome – the 3,734th Council meeting on Transport Issues was a first small step.