Single European Sky - EESC warns Commission's new proposal may not be enough

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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) urges the European Commission to start a new discussion to make sure the green objectives and improved performance of the air traffic management system are covered in the new legislation. The consequences of the COVID‑19 crisis for aviation should also be addressed.

The European Commission and aviation stakeholders should come back to the discussion table to clarify the ambition of the new Single European Sky (SES) Regulation. It remains unclear, in fact, whether the Commission's draft proposal will be enough to achieve the SES's original goals in terms of reducing CO2 emissions and improving the efficiency of air traffic management and air navigation services (ATM/ANS).

This was the warning issued in an opinion drafted by Dumitru Fornea and adopted at the EESC's December plenary session. Commenting during the debate, Mr Fornea said: The function of the network manager needs to be clarified, especially the overall scope and its impact on airline planning, capacity management, airspace design, the environment and the prioritisation of demands. All stakeholders in aviation should be involved in reaching major decisions; the principle of meaningful consultation needs to be part of the framework proposal.

Top priorities: green fuels, safety and efficient air traffic management

The Committee values the efforts of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the specialised EU institutions to find a new legal and administrative solution for the updated SES Regulation – one that can ensure the sustainable development of the air transport system for the benefit of all citizens, airspace users and the environment.

The Commission's proposal seeks, on the one hand, to remove current ATM inefficiencies that are harmful for the environment and, on the other, to strengthen other ATM aspects such as more agile data service provision and green incentives. One important element is a permanent Performance Review Body (PRB), to be established within the Cologne-based European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

However, although the draft text is an improvement on the existing regulation, it does not seem to match the SES's original goals in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, reducing delays and improving the cost efficiency of the ATM service provision.

The EESC is concerned that the scope of the document may be too broad. The environmental measures should be given further consideration and developed in an additional proposal, which should consider all relevant sustainability measures in aviation, including the introduction and integration of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

The EESC also considers it necessary to ensure air traffic safety and improve the overall performance, scalability and resilience of ATM/ANS, while at the same time upgrading the SES to a coherent pan-European network, with a progressively more integrated and technologically modernised ATM/ANS.

New regulation should take account of the pandemic's impact on aviation

Finally, the Commission proposal lacks any reference to the dramatic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis on the industry. In this regard, the EESC recommends carrying out an impact study in order to give proper consideration to the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for both workers and service users.

Against this backdrop, the suggested encouragement of structural change does not appear to be forward‑looking, as it could bring about further fragmentation and greater complexity at a time when the industry needs stability in order to recover. Likewise, the proposal's aim of improving capacity in the ATM sector has become less relevant, as traffic has fallen dramatically since the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic and current estimates from Eurocontrol show that it is unlikely to return to 2019 levels until 2024.

Current state of play

The SES initiative aims to improve the overall efficiency of how European airspace is organised and managed by reforming the industry providing air navigation services. Its development has involved two comprehensive legislative packages – SES I and SES II – and includes four regulations. The experience gained with SES I and SES II has shown that the principles and general orientation of the SES are valid and should be maintained. Despite this body of legislation, however, ATM costs remain high and delays, harmful for the environment, persist.

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