Air traffic management (ATM) in Europe needs to cope both with sustained air traffic growth and with significant unforeseen traffic variations, such as the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Insufficient airspace capacity, as seen in recent years, leads to long delays and difficulties for passengers. These delays affect the efficiency of the entire air transport system. Delays are the cause of additional costs for airlines, and they increase the sector’s carbon footprint with additional emissions from aircraft flying more fuel-inefficient routes.
ATM is facing multiple challenges. These include fostering a system with scalable air traffic control capacity, reducing the environmental footprint of the sector, accommodating new entrants in our airspace (e.g. drones), and ensuring safety and security (e.g. from cyberattacks) as systems become increasingly digitalised.
The Single European Sky (SES) initiative, launched in 2004, tackles the fragmentation of European airspace and aims at improving ATM performance from the safety, capacity, cost-efficiency and environmental perspectives. New technologies play a major role in achieving these goals. The Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) Project brings together the resources and expertise of civil and military stakeholders, with the EU institutions, to develop innovative technologies and ways of working to improve ATM performance.
To address increasing delays of flights in the EU, the European Commission has appointed Eurocontrol as the Network Manager until 2029 with a mandate to identify short-term congestion and delay reduction measures for peak travel periods. Measures have also been included in Commission Implementing Regulations such as the Network Functions, and Performance and Charging Scheme Regulations.
To deal with the above-mentioned challenges for the longer term, the Commission has proposed more structural changes. In 2020, the Commission tabled an amended proposal, accompanied by a proposal amending EASA Basic Regulation as regards the capacity of EASA to act as the Performance Review Body. The SES2+ reform aims to introduce structural changes to ensure that the sector is fit to realise its economic potential in a balanced way, by providing for a more flexible and scalable provision of air navigation services, and fit for the operating environment of today and of the future, and by improving on environmental performance.
- SES II (2009) legislative package (549/2004, 550/2004, 551/2004)
- Network functions: Commission Implementing Regulation (2019/123)
- Performance and charging: Commission Implementing Regulation (2019/317)
- EASA Basic Regulation (2018)
- SES2+ proposals (COM/2020/579 final and COM/2020/577 final), press release and Staff Working Document
- SESAR’s Common Project 1: Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/116