Brussels, 26 September 2013
Transport: Commission urges Italy, Cyprus and Greece to implement EU rules to unblock congestion in Europe's airspace
Today the European Commission has requested Italy, Cyprus and Greece to urgently clarify the measures taken to establish Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), required under the Single European Sky legislation 2004, in order to reform Europe's out-of-date air traffic control system. The FABs are intended to replace the current patchwork of 27 national air traffic blocks with a network of larger, regional blocks, to gain efficiency, cut costs and reduce emissions. The Commission is looking to head off a capacity crunch as the number of flights is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years.
Overall, inefficiencies in Europe's fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to € 5 billion each year to airlines and their customers. They add 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight, forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.
Vice-President Siim Kallas said, "This legal action should send a strong political message about our determination to push through the reforms to Europe's air traffic control that are so badly needed. Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky. We cannot afford to continue this way. Europe's skies face a capacity crunch, and the reform of our aging air traffic control system is too important to passengers, airlines, and the environment to be allowed to fail."
Member States have, since 2004, been obliged to establish FABs. Due to the slow progress, a binding deadline of 4 December 2012 was set in 2009, but implementation is still far too slow. The Commission is now seeking clarification, through a letter of formal notice, of the measures Italy, Cyprus and Greece have taken to put the basic legal structures for FABs in place.
Delays in delivering operational FABs are holding back the implementation of the EU's Single European Sky to a significant degree which in turn generates inefficiencies in the entire European air traffic management system, bringing extra costs of close to € 5 billion a year which are passed on to airlines and their customers — as well as increased journey times, delays and emissions.
Functional airspace blocks go to the heart of the ambitious plans to reform Europe's aging air traffic control system and create a Single European Sky.
The Commission is requesting information, through a letter of formal notice, from Italy, Cyprus and Greece on how they have complied with key provisions of Single Sky legislation, notably Article 9a of Regulation (EC) No 550/2004 which mandated the full implementation of FABs as defined in Article 2(25) of Regulation (EC) No 549/2004 by all EU Member States by 4 December 2012 — with a regulatory obligation to enable optimum use of airspace in regard to capacity and flight efficiency, as well as an obligation to deliver optimised air navigation services across the EU.
In order to establish a FAB, first the Member States must put in place the legal structure, through state agreements signed by their participating Member States. Once the legal structure is in place, only then can the difficult operational work to gain efficiencies in terms of reducing flight delays, costs and emissions begin.
The Commission is currently examining infringement cases against all Member States in relation to FABs, particularly where no progress towards reform is seen. Despite a binding deadline of December 2012 for Member States to establish FABs, none of the 9 FABs which should have been created under the SES are fully operational.
As well as pursuing infringement actions against Member States who do not meet their legal obligations under the current SES legislation, the Commission has also adopted proposals for a SES2+ package of legislative measures which will speed up the reform of Europe's air traffic management system, by strengthening the nuts and bolts of the system so it can withstand more pressure and deliver ambitious reforms. See
See also Vice-President Kallas' speech on the Single European Sky at the informal meeting of Transport Ministers in Lithuania, 15th September 2013.
On the June infringement package decisions, see MEMO/13/820
On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12
More information on infringement procedures
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