March 04, 2013
The European Commission is focusing too heavily on chasing states for failing to comply with airspace redesign mandates, prominent air traffic management (ATM) officials say.
Not only is it questionable whether the EC will prevail with sanctions, but expectations for the redesign initiative are unrealistic, according to the officials. Also, other programs and concepts have emerged that offer greater potential for ATM reform.
One of the main goals of the Single European Sky effort is for states to merge their airspace into functional airspace blocks (FABs), making ATM flows more efficient. But a decade into this initiative, the EC and airlines are frustrated that most states have not done enough to comply with the legislative requirements established for FABs (AW&ST Feb. 18, p. 36).
The EC, which is determined to make the FABs work, is launching legal action against states that have not met deadlines. It is also preparing to tweak the FAB process again when it releases its third Single Sky legislative package.
However, Eamonn Brennan, CEO of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), says he would be “amazed if any state is taken to court” over the missed FAB deadline. He notes that some of the states targeted by the EC are among the largest and most powerful. Other industry sources believe this is an unlikely issue for the EC to pick a fight with states over, since it is not something that resonates with the public.
The states have actually made some progress with the FABs, and have coalesced into nine blocks. But the lack of streamlining within FABs, as well as tardiness by most states in formally establishing them, has prompted the EC to begin legal action that would proceed to the European Court of Justice.
This will likely become an issue of legal interpretation, says Bo Redeborn, Eurocontrol's principal director for ATM. It could be difficult for the EC to claim that the FABs have not been established, even if many only exist on paper, he says. And it is unlikely the states will admit they have not met the formal requirement. “The states won't just say sorry, send us a bill, we are ready to accept a sanction,” notes Redeborn.
Even though the anticipated advantages of the FABs have not been delivered, there have still been positives out of the process, Redeborn says. The FAB initiatives have created incentives for states to cooperate more closely on ATM, and “this is a real benefit, with or without the success of the FAB rule itself,” Redeborn says.