Interview on the Single European Sky second package

With Daniel Calleja (Director Air Transport, European Commission)
By Lucia Pasquini on 11 August 2009

What are the changes the Single European Sky II brings about? What area the key areas of action and how will the project cope with the current economic downturn?

Daniel Calleja, Director of Air Transport European Commission gives an answer to Single European Sky II outstanding issues - its added value, forecoming priorities and challenges, and the pivotal role EUROCONTROL is going to play along the European Commission towards building a seamless European airspace.

He concludes by stating the ultimate goal of the SES initiative: “A true Single Sky is an air traffic system which delivers performance for all airspace users (…) In fact, the whole system will become based on airspace users’ requirements while at the same time ensuring the highest safety levels. Thus, air traffic management will be in a position to underpin the economic and cohesive role that aviation plays in our modern society”.

Can you please outline the key threads of the Single European Sky second package?

The new Single European Sky proposals constitute a genuine package, with four pillars to drive the performance of the air traffic management system.

The first pillar strengthens the existing Single European Sky legislation to deliver performance and effectively tackle environmental challenges. Three key

measures will deliver the performance of the Single Sky.

Firstly, a performance regulatory scheme will establish concrete and binding targets for air navigation service providers and for the network manager’s operational activities. The scheme will set targets for safety, the environment, capacity and cost-efficiency. Before the end of the year, the Commission will propose an implementing rule elaborating this performance regulatory scheme.

Secondly, functional airspace blocks, for enhanced cooperation or integration at regional level, are the vehicle for achieving the performance targets. The deadline for the implementation of functional airspace blocks is set at three years after the publication of the Regulation, hence mid-2012. This coincides with the start of the first performance cycle. You now see why we view performance and functional airspace blocks as two sides of the same coin.

The third measure is network management. Since performance will require even stronger coordination of central functions to assist regional providers, the European Single Sky will strengthen the network management functions. This brings us to the second pillar of the aviation package: safety. We need to

bring together all the links in the aviation safety chain under a single logical and uniform approach. That is why the competence of the European Aviation

Safety Agency (EASA) will be extended to aerodrome operations and air traffic management. The value added of such a total system approach is also that EASA will be able to focus on the weakest links and the interfaces of the safety chain, or on systemic risks.

The third pillar is future technology, which will enable the service providers and airspace users to take the technological  leap. The SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) programme is to provide future technology in a coordinated manner by pooling the hitherto fragmented research efforts and ensuring synchronised deployment. Only such a coordinated approach can maximise benefits at minimal cost.

Finally, the fourth pillar is the “action plan for airport capacity, efficiency and safety”. Airports are entry and exit points of the air traffic management system

and need to be an integral part of our approach.

We are very aware that progress within the four pillars will rely on the expertise of aviation sector professionals. That is why there is an overarching principle common to the four pillars: the human factor. Staff will be closely involved in every step we take. Their competences should be guaranteed in order to allow them to continue working at the highest professional standards, and also on the basis of sound and reliable reporting systems.

What is the main focus with respect to the original SES legislation?

SES II updates the first package. Many events have taken place since the adoption of the original legislation. We have seen the European Community enlarged to 27 Member States. The environment has been put high on the political agenda. In addition, we have had four years’ experience of the Single Sky. This has taught us that performance cannot be delivered if left to the discretion of individual Member States.

But SES II is also about strengthening the Community method in line with the conclusions of the High-Level Group. The national level alone is no longer the most appropriate level for dealing with network issues. After all, air traffic management is, together with airports, the infrastructure for aviation, which requires strong coordination amongst all actors if it is to perform.

That is why the focus of Single Sky II is more on partnership with Member States and applying the Community method: systematic consultation of stakeholders and more effective enforcement of rules.

What is priority number one in terms of timing?

We have to make progress within all of the pillars, as a package, since they are interrelated. Performance regulation depends on strong safety regulation to ensure that safety is an absolute priority. Investment in SESAR depends on success in performance regulation, guaranteeing that the cost of the investment is kept to a minimum.

If I had to single out particular issues, I would mention the implementing rule on performance regulation and SESAR Implementation Phase I. The first sets in motion a process of performance regulation, in which each actor needs to know exactly what is expected by when. The second determines the credibility of the SESAR programme. It is a test case for governance structures and will lay the foundation for seven years of research and development.

Of course, in these times of severe economic downturn, our priority is to look for measures which can alleviate the financial burden on the aviation industry. We have to look urgently for quick implementation of operational and cost-saving measures which are under preparation in the Single Sky framework. That is why my services are working with airspace users, service providers and EUROCONTROL to make a list of such alleviation measures and speed up implementation.


What are the consequences for EUROCONTROL?

EUROCONTROL’s role will be significantly reinforced within SES II, provided it swiftly adapts to the new framework. As previously mentioned, Single Sky II strengthens network functions to achieve performance.

EUROCONTROL has acquired unique expertise in this domain, and this should be used for the benefit of all. This is best done by consistently applying the

basic Single Sky principles: separate service provision from oversight; make industry responsible for operational tasks; strengthen government tasks by

organising oversight and applying performance criteria; ensure transparent financing mechanisms for these operational tasks. A reformed EUROCONTROL should be a key player in this new regulatory landscape.

Furthermore, SESAR will mean that all research efforts are managed as a single programme under the aegis of the SESAR Joint Undertaking. EUROCONTROL, as a founding member of the Joint Undertaking, will play a vital role.

Finally, EUROCONTROL can also play an exceptional role in ensuring a pan- European approach to SES II beyond the European Union.

 We are of course fully aware of this challenge. However, building on sound Single Sky principles is what is expected and badly needed. Only this will lead to the performance leap our air traffic management system urgently needs.

What are the main challenges to the achievement of a true Single Sky by 2012? And how can these challenges be successfully addressed?

A true Single Sky is an air traffic system which delivers performance for all airspace users, including military and general aviation: safer, greener flights, and adequate capacity at moments when aircraft want to fly at a lower cost. In fact, the whole system will become based on airspace users’ requirements while at the same time ensuring the highest safety levels. Thus, air traffic management will be in a position to underpin the economic and cohesive role that aviation plays in our modern society.

Governance is the key to success. Put airspace users in the driver’s seat to express their requirements, be it in terms of SESAR deliverables or in terms of performance plans. Then, let the air traffic industry professionals do their job to deliver. I am a strong believer in their professionalism.

I have no doubt that through enhanced cooperation and true partnership between all actors the Single European Sky initiative put forward by Loyola de Palacio in 2000 will finally become a reality.

Let’s do it!