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Mobility and Transport
News article5 October 2018Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport

Commission receives recommendations on improving air traffic in Europe

Today, the group of high-level aviation specialists advising the Commission on the performance of the Single European Sky – also known as the Performance Review Body (PRB) -published its recommendation for Union-wide performance targets in air navigation services for 2020-2024. The targets will determine the level of ambition to increase the punctuality of flights, encourage more efficient flight paths to reduce the environmental impact of air traffic and the cost of service provision to the benefit of airlines and passengers, while ensuring the highest safety standards.

Henrik Hololei, Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission said: "The PRB's recommendation comes at a time when we observe new record levels of air traffic paired with lack of capacity causing substantial delays for passengers. The Commission is committed to contribute to the resolution of the capacity limitations by completing the Single European Sky - also through EU investment into innovative technological solutions such as SESAR. It goes without saying that we encourage investment and continuous improvement in cooperation also from our partners in the aviation sector. I would like to thank the advisory body and all involved stakeholders that have contributed to the report. We will take the recommendations into account for the target proposal and are looking forward to continue our excellent cooperation."

Air traffic is forecast to increase at an average 2.3% per year for the next seven years resulting in a traffic demand up by 25% in 8-10 years’ time. Already today, around 50,000 passengers face delays every day of up to two hours in airports across Europe, leading to missed connections and unforeseen costs (European Aviation in 2040 – Challenges of growth (EUROCONTROL, 2018, Edition 2) The current European air traffic system needs to adapt – a challenge EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc has recently also addressed in a joint statement with the European Parliament.

In 2018, delays attributable to air navigation services have dramatically increased: the overall Union-level delay more than doubled compared to the same period in 2017. In some Member States in the core European area, the delay is currently six times higher than the binding target. The PRB calls on Member States and air navigation service providers to implement the necessary measures to address the issue now. Air navigation service providers are generating sufficient financial surplus to cover necessary investments. The PRB considered these aspects in its recommendations, expecting that air navigation service providers can reduce delays by providing more capacity where needed and increase efficiency in the coming years .

The PRB recommends the following targets:

  • Safety: Air traffic management in Europe is very safe. The PRB recommends small additional improvements in the safety culture and risk management.
  • Environment: Environmental performance can be improved. The actual distance flown by aircraft should be shortened by an additional 0.2% as compared to the target for 2019. This would improve flight efficiency and reduce fuel burn. It is expected that by achieving those targets, up to 200,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year could be saved.
  • Capacity: Despite the current problems with delay, the targets for capacity must remain ambitious. In 2017, the average delay per flight was 0.94 minutes. The target is to move towards 0.8 minutes in the next years and as of 2023 the average Air Traffic Flow Management delay per flight shall not exceed 0.5 minute. Reaching the recommended target range would reduce delays for passengers and support the increasing demand for traffic. A total of €2.5bn over 2020-2024 of costs due to delays could be saved.
  • Cost-efficiency: By the end of 2024 the average determined unit cost for air navigation services should be substantially lower than today. The PRB recommends a reduction of 23% as compared to the Union-wide target for 2019. Further efficiency gains are possible due to new technologies and procedures and due to the fact that air navigation service providers will have an increased income due to higher traffic. This would reduce the cost to airspace users, enabling airlines to offer lower fares to passengers.

In order to compile the report the PRB held a public consultation on the draft target ranges proposal for 2020-2024 and consulted stakeholders.

Next steps

The Commission will use the advice provided by the advisory body to adopt a decision on Union-wide targets for the period 2020-2024 of the performance and charging scheme in early 2019. Member States will then adopt performance plans for that period which set binding local targets consistent with Union-wide targets.


The Performance Review Body consists of 9 high-level aviation specialists from European states. The PRB is chaired by Ms Regula Dettling-Ott.

The PRB assists the Commission in the performance and economic regulation of monopoly air navigation service providers in the European Union and Switzerland by providing independent advice and expertise to improve the performance of air navigation in Europe in the key areas of safety, capacity, environment and cost-efficiency.

The performance and charging schemes of the Single European Sky are the regulatory instruments through which the Commission drives performance of air navigation services in cooperation with Member States, national supervisory authorities and operational stakeholders.

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Publication date
5 October 2018
Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport