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Mobility and Transport
News article22 September 2016Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport3 min read

European Commission invests €600 million in new research to unblock congestion in Europe's airspace


European Commission invests €600 million in new research to unblock congestion in Europe's airspace

The European Commission has today announced €600 million of new funding to unblock congestion in Europe's airspace. The Commission is looking to head off a capacity crunch as the number of flights is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years. The goal is to develop the new technology needed to deliver Europe's Single Sky – the ambitious project to reform Europe's airspace, doubling capacity and halving air traffic management costs.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said, "Europe's skies and airports risk saturation. If we leave things as they are, we will be confronted with heavy congestion and chaos in our airspace. On the ground, airports will be so crowded that there will be 2 million flights unable to take off or land. Increased congestion brings with it increased safety risk- as well as delays and real economic costs. This vital research funding holds the keys to unlocking the technology needed to deliver a cleaner, more efficient, European airspace fit for the 21st century."

Inefficiencies in Europe's fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to 5 billion Euros each year to airlines and their customers. They add 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.

This research is critical to delivering the Single European Sky, the flagship project to create a single European airspace – tripling capacity and halving air traffic costs. It will continue to be managed by the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking (JU) - whose mandate will be prolonged for a further 8 years, until 2024.

The research aims to make flying cleaner, cheaper and safer. The new funding will focus on

  • developing means to allow airlines to fly their preferred (and more direct) routes, using new technologies for data exchange between air and ground;
  • integrating new types of aircraft, such as drones, in the air traffic management system;
  • optimising traffic management, in particular on the ground; for example to make the access to and exit from the runways more efficient and safer in all weather conditions.

The project involves more than 2500 experts covering the full range of air traffic management (ATM) expertise. Their work on coordinated ATM related research will continue, as well as development and validation activities, including large scale demonstrations.

The extension of the SESAR JU shows the Commission's strong commitment to the Single European Sky project (see IP 13/523) and recognises the importance of the results that the SESAR JU has already achieved to date.

The SESAR JU will continue to be co-financed by Eurocontrol and the aviation industry. The EU's share of the funding for the extension, amounting to a maximum of 600 million Euros, will come from the Horizon 2020 programme, as part of the EU's new Multi-Annual Financial Framework. This is part of an estimated total budget covering the new work programme of the extended SESAR JU of €1.6 billion. Indicatively, this budget will support ATM exploratory research (6%), applied research (47%), pre-industrial development (28%) and large scale demonstration projects (9%).


The SESAR JU is a unique public-private partnership that aims to develop a new generation of air traffic management (ATM) system capable of coping with growing air traffic, under the safest, most cost-efficient and environmentally friendly conditions. It is also the “guardian” of the European ATM Master Plan, the roadmap for all SESAR JU’s activities and their future deployment.

The SESAR JU was established in 2007 to coordinate all the ATM related research and development activities in the EU under the 2007-2013 financial perspectives, which limited the duration of the Joint Undertaking to 31 December 2016.

The 2 founding members of the SESAR JU, (the EU and Eurocontrol) and its other 15 members, which include public and private entities such as aircraft manufacturer Airbus, major national air navigation service providers and airports and equipment manufacturers, such as Thales, Indra, Alenia Aermacchi, Frequentis, Selex SI and Honeywell, have already confirmed their commitment to continue their work in SESAR.

The SESAR JU has a critical role to play in developing the technology to deliver the Single European Sky, the flagship project to create a single European airspace:

  • Cutting ATM-related expenses for airspace users in half
  • Reducing by 10% the effects flights have on the environment
  • Delivering a 3-fold increase in capacity which will also reduce delays both on the ground and in the air
  • Improving safety by a factor of 10.


Publication date
22 September 2016
Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport