EUROCONTROL Think Paper #14 - The future of air navigation services

After 50 years, is the joint pan-European system of route charges still fit for purpose?
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Airplane flying above the clouds

The funding of air navigation services: After 50 years, is the joint pan-European system of route charges still fit for purpose?

We would like to share with you our latest EUROCONTROL Think Paper, which assesses whether the European Route Charges System, which has effectively funded en-route air navigation services (ANS) across the pan-European network for 50 years, is still fit for the future in the wake of a pandemic which has put enormous pressure on the way these services are financed.

We find that pre-pandemic, the Route Charges System had flexibly adapted and evolved over the years, with EUROCONTROL’s Central Route Charges Office billing and collecting route charges from airspace users with an enviable 99.7% recovery rate. Those monies collected in turn covered the cost of providing en-route ANS, amounting to around 96% of the revenues required for this by air navigation service providers.

COVID-19 has however caused a massive revenue shortfall. The significantly reduced traffic has failed to match the fixed costs of ANS provision, causing a funding gap that should reach €8.6 billion by year-end, a huge revenue shortfall that will mostly be shouldered by airlines in the form of higher route charges in the years ahead.

Route charges losses vs 2019

March 2020 - November 2021

Route charges losses vs 2019

We conclude that while the Route Charges System has shown its capacity to evolve and adapt, it faces a series of challenges from the way pan-European ANS is funded, to capacity, delays and sustainability considerations as traffic returns – and in this regard, we note that Single European Sky options such as a single unit rate and/or modulation of charges should be considered.

None of these challenges is insurmountable, but the main test will be to strive to maintain a common policy that can evolve and accommodate them in the years ahead.

Download the full paper to learn more.

Think Papers are produced to stimulate debate and look at alternatives. They do not represent the official view of the Agency or its Member States.


EUROCONTROL Think Paper #14