Towards a transformed ATM environment - the view from Europe

by Matthew Baldwin on 12 February 2013, CANSO ATM CONGRESS Madrid (ES)

Delighted to be here to give you a view from Europe. I want to use this session to give you our perspective on how we can move to this Star Trek like vision you have of Augmented Reality: moving to a transformed global ATM system. The only missing word here is “boldly” and then only because you wanted to avoid repeating the most famous split infinitive in history.

In fact, as these titles go, it’s not so bad – because the essence of our policy is indeed, firstly, to knock away all the impediments to real change in Europe, to deliver the universally agreed but not yet wholly implemented Single European Sky and secondly, tho I am not going to say very much about it today, to keep it global, i.e., fully interoperable with other ATM systems worldwide.

Worth a brief moment to remind ourselves just why we are doing this. In fact don’t most of us start our days by saying: “remind me, why AM I doing this ?” or certainly our afternoons… In the 1990s, with European aviation showing every tendency to be ready to exploit the new openness that the aviation single market had brought, our potential boom looked like it was going to be nipped in the bud by a capacity and cost crisis in European ATM. Unbeknownst to the citizen, innocently trying to exploit the fast breeding availability of new routes and lower prices, we were running into a potentially major impediment to jobs and growth.

Indeed, our first efforts in the form of Single Sky I were largely focused on creating additional capacity, and getting some structure into technological innovation in the form of SESAR. But it was rapidly clear that SES 1, though a great start, was not comprehensive enough – we needed to tackle capacity and cost, safety and the environment. Hence SES 2.

Though I actually think that the most important parts of SES 2 were the innovations represented by the Network Manager, which has made an excellent start under the auspices of Eurocontrol, the creation of FABS, and perhaps most of all, the idea of the performance scheme to step away from constantly prescribing what has to be done, and giving industry and Member States the responsibility themselves to improve performance. And that’s essential, ladies and gentlemen,
because at the end, it is very simple: it is about what is needed to get the system
to deliver… better … performance.

If you missed the first two films in the SES series, or if you think you did, here’s the story so far.

Yes, some of the programme has taken root.

I mentioned the Network Manager, which has started well. But it’s only the start, and clearly Frank Brenner – with our full support by the way – is going to task the NM to deliver or at least coordinate a number of new centralized services coming out of the SESAR system.

SESAR itself is now close to deployment: we will shortly deliver a proposal on Common Projects, and the governance and finances to underpin deployment (and thanks to the European Council, by the way, for leaving the EU’s future budget just about sufficiently intact for us to be able to talk seriously about delivering financial support). We think the Sesar Joint Undertaking has done a fine job in defining and developing the technological arm of the Single European Sky, and will
propose to the Council and Parliament to extend its mandate.

The performance scheme is starting to deliver. But nowhere close to fast enough if we are to arrive at our ambitious 2020 targets. There are recriminations on all sides. From ANSPs who say: what part of a 20 % loss of traffic do you not understand ? from states who point to cash‐strapped national budgets and fear more losses. But most loudly of all from airlines who say: excuse me, but we too have lived through this recession – barely, or not even barely in some cases – and …how come deregulation is only for us?

The nine FABs have not lived up to their billing. At least, not so far. A lot of work has gone into the institutional frameworks of the FABs, but less has been done – frankly a lot less – in terms of optimizing airspace within, much less between, FABs. And besides pursuing our duty to chase after the Member States with infringement notices in the face of these rather clear infringements, we in the Commission are also reflecting on what we can do to help FABs become the smart, efficient, flexible tools to drive performance.

And finally, the National Supervisory Authorities, even after 8 years, are struggling, with a general picture of understaffing, underfunding and lack of independent expertise – made worse by (or perhaps explained by) a tendency in several cases for NSAs to develop too close a relationship with those being overseen.

I should perhaps say that I am being deliberately stark in drawing out the difficulties we face, but not that stark. The situation – and you have heard Tony Tyler's report this morning – is a difficult one.

I also want to set out some hopefully constructive ideas on the way forward, indeed to give you a bit of flavour of our thinking on SES2+.

To begin with: performance. We made some important strides towards gaining acceptance from the states for modernized rules on performance and charging, which will serve as a more solid basis to setting tough but fair performance targets for the next reporting period which begins in 2015. But these new targets do have to be genuinely testing, and seriously followed up. We cannot have again the less than full implementation of targets that are already condemned upon agreement as a soft compromise. And I quite understand the constraints that the traffic losses impose, but if we are incapable of implementing important changes to the system now, I fail to understand how we will be able to do it when the upturn finally comes and we start to hear the system groaning under capacity constraints.

So we need more robust targets coming out of a more robust process – which is currently too long and drawn out, and doesn’t give a strong enough operational role to the Performance Review Body. And last but not least, if Member States do not deliver on the targets, we need ways within the performance scheme of being able to follow up with legal action.

For FABs, I stress again, they are elemental to the future of the SES. Some have suggested that by taking MS to court for non‐implementation, we are somehow writing FABS off. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we want to see if we can develop the whole FAB concept – helping them develop as flexible enablers of different services, seeking synergies in different directions, building new business alliances in reaction to commercial opportunities – all with a view to driving performance forward.

And with the industry itself, PRB studies show that is in the area of support services where our performance most consistently lags behind that of other world regions. The core service provision of ANSPs is a natural monopoly – I think most people accept that – although we have heard some interesting counter views from IATA today ‐ and that it must be regulated. But if we can find a way of unbundling the ancillary services, or of looking at them in another way, via the concept of centralized services, the core service providers could benefit. Not so much threat as major potential opportunity.

And last but not least, what needs to be done in terms of cleaning the institutional set up: to avoid overlaps in jurisdiction and practice – and ensuring that changes are properly constituted in legislation, understood and supported by all stakeholders. As I mentioned, we need to implement the common projects concept to deliver SESAR deployment, and I will be leaving this session to go to another meeting focused precisely on that concept. We need to continue technological innovation in the form of SJU2. We need to develop the Network Manager concept, again using Frank Brenner’s concept of Centralised Services, and use the upcoming revision of Eurocontrol’s Convention to develop the industry role in terms of operational matters in the NM. Over time, the Network Manager could develop into a European Infrastructure Manager, drawing the Network Manager and the Deployment Manager under a single roof. Which, finally, would leave a clearer space in which a truly European economic regulator could emerge. Some have suggested this could be a revamped EASA – a possibility we fully acknowledge – but it is too early to decide on that.

The important thing now is to develop much more consensus on how we need to develop ATM governance at European level, shaping the institutions to what is needed to deliver consistently stronger performance.

Let me conclude briefly. The only true constant here is that a lot of work lies ahead. What won't work, in my view, is the status quo. We do not have a stable point of equilibrium because the long promised, and politically agreed, Single European Sky has not yet been delivered. I've tried this afternoon to explain that we have an essentially pragmatic approach. The overwhelming priority is performance, and all other aspects are really secondary means to end. And we are practical too in our working methods. We don't see the SES as a crusade (in any of the many senses of that word!). We want to work with States, with industry, with all stakeholders to help the system adjust. At the same time, of course, the Commission has to be ready to use the full panoply of tools – from infringement powers to new packages of legislation – to drive the process forward. And no apologies for that.

What I think we all want, to return to the global issues, briefly, in closing is to have a European ATM system that is the most performing in the world, and even more capable of leading the debate in ICAO by example. We aren't doing badly on that score already, to judge from ANC‐12 last autumn, and the hard work on global interoperability has been crucial.

But the hard fact remains that the European Union can and should do better on Air Traffic Management, and all of us in the Commission, from Vice President Kallas downwards, are quite determined to see greater progress.