Now or never for a single European sky

GENEVA, 23 April 2021: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) 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, but the targets have not 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) threaten to collapse the latest Commission effort,” said  IATA’s director general Willie Walsh.

The SES is vital for a safe, sustainable, and efficient European air transport industry.

Safety benefits

An improvement in safety performance by a factor of 10.
Greater capacity and fewer delays, giving a EUR245 billion boost to Europe’s GDP and a million extra jobs annually from 2035.
A 10% cut in EU aviation emissions will support the European Green Deal.

“The COVID-19 crisis makes the efficiency gains of the SES more critical than ever. 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,” said Walsh.

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. 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 EUR 27 billion collective loss made by European airlines last year, Europe’s ANSPs are demanding further price increases while sitting on at least EUR 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,” said Walsh.

Many European states are considering blocking the reforms in favour of an alternative vision that will weaken the targets and regulatory oversight from what is currently in place. This is completely unacceptable and could collapse the entire package of reforms.

“Such a catastrophic failure of the Commission’s proposal would take years to recover. 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 travellers and airlines. It’s time for states to put an end to years of short-sighted political manoeuvring and administrative paralysis and support the Commission’s proposal to finally deliver a Single European Sky,” said Walsh. 

IATA calls on the transport ministers to adopt at the next Transport Council on 3 June a more ambitious general approach in line with the Commission’s proposal.

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