Interview

"Aviation stakeholders will respond successfully to this ambitious decarbonisation challenge"

Paloma Aba Garrote

The time has come to make the European Green Deal a reality, says Paloma Aba Garrote, Acting Director of the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA).

"If the EU wants to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, this requires ambitious changes in transport including air transport"

The European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA) was officially established in February 2021, successor to the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA). Its mission is to support stakeholders in delivering the European Green Deal through high-quality programme management that helps to implement projects contributing to decarbonisation and sustainable growth. Consequently, CINEA plays a key role in supporting the European Union (EU) Green Deal through the efficient and effective implementation of its delegated programmes: the Connecting European Facility; Horizon Europe; Innovative Fund; the LIFE programme; the EU Renewable Energy Financing Mechanism; the European Maritime and Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, and the Public Sector Loan Facility under the Joint Transition Mechanism.

The European Green Deal is a package of policy initiatives, which aims to set the European Union on the path to a green transition, with the goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. It supports the transformation of the EU into a fair and prosperous society with a modern and competitive economy. All the programmes delegated to CINEA aim to address the EU Green Deal Objectives from different angles (research, deployment, studies, works) and for different sectors (all modes of transport as well as energy and environment, to name a few).

The European Green Deal has the potential to play a key role not only in ensuring in the short term the much-needed economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, but also in addressing long-term climate change threats. Project promoters in all modes of transport including air transport are therefore taking advantage of EU funding opportunities available under the various programmes managed by CINEA to address these challenges and make change happen. CINEA is pleased to regularly promote all the efforts and success stories of its beneficiaries in doing so.

Is the European Green Deal a wake-up call for transport and in particular air transport?

With transport contributing around 5% to EU GDP and employing more than 10 million people in Europe, the transport system is critical to European businesses and global supply chains. At the same time, transport brings costs to our society in the form of greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions, noise, road accidents and congestion.

Today, transport emissions represent about 25% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions, and these emissions have increased over recent years. We also all know that a significant part of CO2 emissions come from aviation. So, if the EU wants to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, this requires ambitious changes in transport including air transport. The involvement of all actors is necessary if we want to achieve a 90% reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Because the European aviation sector has taken on the challenge of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, by making every journey as environmentally friendly as possible and aiming to fly the optimal green flight, the only way forward is to deliver all the expected improvements. The aviation sector has clearly shown its resilience, its capacity to react and to innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. All aviation stakeholders have worked together to overcome the difficulties, so there is good reason to believe that aviation stakeholders will again respond successfully to this ambitious decarbonisation challenge. We can already see very promising and exciting projects focusing on sustainable fuels, redesigning aircraft and the airports of the future, improving existing technologies for take-off and descent, reducing CO2 emissions and noise, developing drone services and integrating drones into European air traffic management.

Concretely what EU funding opportunities are available to help the aviation sector address the European Green Deal objectives?

Several EU programmes are relevant to air transport. As we are now fully in a new funding cycle 2021-2027, there are lots of new funding opportunities available. Moreover, part of CINEA's mission is also to foster synergies and natural links between its different funding programmes.

First, from a research point of view, Horizon Europe supports research projects developing and testing new clean energy and transport technologies. In particular, the societal challenge on smart and sustainable transport aims at developing solutions and services for clean, competitive, smart and resilient transport and mobility. More concretely, CINEA supports state-of-the-art research on various aviation domains, such as propulsion, eco-materials, aerodynamic noise, and safety, among others. The Horizon 2020 Framework Programme supports projects conceiving breakthrough technologies up to validating prototypes in the real environment. All these projects are contributing to designing the aircraft of the future.

Second, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) focuses on building modern EU infrastructure (transport, energy and telecoms) and more precisely on deploying innovative solutions on a large scale.

More particularly relevant to air transport is the SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) priority which aims to improve the performance of air traffic management (ATM) in Europe by modernising and harmonising ATM systems, synchronising the deployment of essential ATM functionalities, enhancing civil-military interoperability, reducing fragmentation and consolidating the provision of air navigation services. Furthermore, the Programme’s "Urban Nodes" priority provides funding for studies to link airports and urban centres.

A new set of CEF Transport calls were published last September with a deadline of 18 January 2023 and are currently being evaluated. There will be other CEF Calls published in the second half of 2023 and on a yearly basis. It is worth noting that the 2022 CEF Transport Calls included four topics related to SESAR.

Out of the four SESAR topics mentioned above, the topic "Common Project One" focused on short-term implementation needs resulting from the SESAR Deployment Programme.

For this specific topic, applicants had to coordinate their applications with the SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM) who advised them on the relevance and compliance of their proposals with the SESAR Deployment Programme and the priorities of this Call. The SDM also consolidated the relevant implementation projects into several project clusters to ensure the effective and optimal synchronisation of the projects in accordance with the SESAR Deployment Programme.

Moreover, there was also another topic focusing on "Other SESAR Projects" that aimed to support projects that implemented Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) ground and airborne infrastructure, routes and procedures, which are not addressed by the Common Project One. The Other SESAR Projects included more specifically works related to Performance Based Navigation, Datalink Services and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.

The 2022 Call also included the possibility to support further digital sky demonstrators. It followed the five grants recently signed for digital sky demonstrators resulting from the 2021 Call.

What is expected from such demonstrators? The demonstrators must be closely connected to standardisation and regulatory activities. The projects need to take place in live operational environments, demonstrating services, technologies and standards necessary to deliver the digital European sky. The supervisory authorities should be involved at an early stage, providing tangible evidence of the performance benefits in terms of environment, capacity, safety, security and affordability. These activities should cover Technical Readiness Level 7 and 8.

"Now is really the time to act to make change happen and make the European Green Deal a reality for us and our future generations"

The Digital Sky Demonstrators under the 2022 Call contribute to two research and innovation flagships, namely the gradual transition towards higher levels of automation, and virtual centres and ATM data service providers.

These above are new opportunities to fund projects for European aviation under the SESAR programme and I would like to encourage aviation stakeholders to continue seizing these funding opportunities and apply.

Next to the SESAR programme, CEF is also supporting aviation projects though other funding priorities.

We are for instance supporting the greening of airport operations through our Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Facility.

We are also supporting a growing number of aviation projects – this is perhaps less well known – through our military mobility envelope.

Military mobility actions are an important tool that can contribute to the modernisation of air transport for civil and military use. They provide an excellent opportunity to create and increase synergies between defence and civil air transport infrastructures and support the needs of both by complying with dual-use requirements.

It is worth stressing that opportunities for synergies can emerge at any stage of a Horizon Europe or CEF project lifetime. Active participation in thematic events attended by both the CEF and H2020/Horizon Europe communities is valuable for project promoters allowing them to find opportunities for synergies. Considering other funding and support instruments made available by the European Commission and other EU institutions is another key approach to tap into the potential of synergies.

Further information on all programmes managed by CINEA and all open calls for proposals are available on CINEA's website  and the EU Tender and Funding Opportunities Portal . Now is really the time to act to make change happen and make the European Green Deal a reality for us and our future generations.

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