IATA has warned that the Single European Sky (SES) project to reform Europe’s air traffic management system faces collapse if European states do not support the European Commission’s proposals to reboot the stalled initiative.
“The European Commission has been trying to deliver the benefits of SES since the early 2000s,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. “But state inaction has meant that none of its targets have been met. New legislation, as proposed by the Commission, is the only way to force the reform and improvements that are desperately needed. But the intransigence and selfishness of key EU states and their air navigation service providers (ANSPs) threatens to collapse the latest Commission effort.”
The SES is vital for a safe, sustainable, and efficient European air transport industry. Among its benefits are:
- An improvement in safety performance by a factor of ten
- Greater capacity and fewer delays, giving a €245 billion boost to Europe’s GDP and a million extra jobs annually from 2035
- A 10% cut in EU aviation emissions, supporting the European Green Deal.
“The COVID-19 crisis makes the efficiency gains of the SES more critical than ever,” said Walsh. “And the climate crisis makes the sustainability benefits essential. Europe talks a good game about the importance of sustainability and competitiveness. It’s time to put action behind those words with the SES. If the combined weight of the climate crisis and the COVID-19 crisis are not sufficiently compelling drivers for SES, it’s hard to know what could be.”
The SES has so far failed because ANSPs have had inadequate targets and insufficient independent oversight. The Commission’s proposal provides a remedy by giving regulators the power to enforce robust performance targets. IATA strongly supports the efforts of the Commission and some reform-minded states in a package that includes:
- The creation of powerful, independent national economic regulators, and an EU-wide regulatory agency, and
- The strengthening of the pan-European Network Manager to improve efficiency, which will help cut delays and emissions.
“Air traffic control is a monopoly business,” said Walsh. “In every other business sector, monopoly suppliers are subjected to strong independent regulation—but not in air traffic control. European states make grandiose statements about climate action yet refuse to back common-sense reforms that would force ANSPs to make routings more efficient. And, oblivious to the €27 billion collective loss made by European airlines last year, Europe’s ANSPs are demanding further price increases while sitting on at least €2.5 billion of cash. This is pure madness. But, instead of driving solutions at this critical time, many states are positioning to block reforms and we are in serious danger of moving backwards.”
Many European states are considering blocking the reforms in favor of an alternative vision, which will weaken the targets and regulatory oversight. This could collapse the entire package of reforms.
“Such a catastrophic failure of the Commission’s proposal would take years to recover from,” concluded Walsh. “We would have lost a real opportunity for change when it is vitally needed. And the environment and the European economy will pay a high price for that, along with travelers and airlines. It’s time for states to put an end to years of short-sighted political maneuvering and administrative paralysis and support the Commission’s proposal to finally deliver a Single European Sky.”
IATA calls on the transport ministers to adopt a more ambitious general approach in line with the Commission’s proposal at the next Transport Council.