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European Commission


Brussels, 10 July 2013

European Commission invests €600 million in new research to unblock congestion in Europe's airspace

– Frequently Asked Questions

Congestion in Europe's airspace: The challenges

European skies and airports risk saturation. Already some 800 million passengers pass through Europe's more than 440 airports every year. Each day there are around 27,000 controlled flights – that means 9 million cross Europe's skies each year. 80% of these flights are operated within the EU.

Today's situation is competently handled by the European air transport sector, but, under normal economic conditions, air traffic is expected to grow by up to 3% annually. The number of flights is expected to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years.

If we didn't do something chaos would reign. Europe would not only have to reject a large portion of potential demand, it would also be vulnerable to delays and flight cancellations on an unprecedented scale. If we continued with business as usual congestion costs would increase around 50% by 2050.

The central problem is that Europe's air traffic management systems are fragmented and inefficient.

EU airspace remains fragmented into 27 national air traffic control systems, providing services from some 60 air traffic centres while the airspace is divided into more than 650 sectors. That means airspace is currently structured around national boundaries and so flights are often unable to take direct routes. On average, in Europe, aircraft fly 42 km longer than strictly necessary due to airspace fragmentation, causing longer flight time, delays, extra fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

In addition, current air traffic management is largely based on technologies designed in the 1950s. They are now archaic.

The inefficiencies caused by Europe's fragmented airspace bring extra costs of around €5 billion a year. These costs get passed on to business and passengers. Air traffic control currently makes up 6 - 12% of the cost of a ticket.

The US air traffic management system is twice as efficient as that of the EU; it manages double the number of flights for a similar cost from a third as many control centres.

Faced with these challenges, in 2004 the EU launched the Single European Sky (SES) initiative aiming to remove national boundaries in the air, to create a single airspace:

a) improving safety tenfold,

b) tripling airspace capacity,

c) reducing air traffic management costs by 50%,

d) reducing the environmental impact by 10%.

How can we develop the new technology to increase capacity and reduce costs in Europe's airspace?

The Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) is the technological arm of the SES. The SES provides a legislative framework to meet future safety, capacity and efficiency needs at a European rather than at a national level. The aim of SESAR is to provide the technical and operational solutions to enable the SES objectives to be achieved.

How does SESAR work?

The SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) project is the technology pillar of the SES. It aims to modernise air traffic management (ATM) in Europe by implementing a new concept of ATM operations and systems, which is necessary to achieve the SES performance objectives. The SESAR concept is based on the principle that the users of the airspace and controllers define together, through collaborative processes and exchange of information, the optimal, predictable and timely flight path for aircraft. Underlying this concept are innovative technologies and new operational procedures resulting from a cycle of three interrelated, continuous and evolving processes: Definition of the content and the priorities through a commonly agreed roadmap, the European ATM Master Plan (ATM Master Plan)1; Research, development and validation of the required technological systems, components and operational procedures; and finally deployment of the new systems and operational procedures.

The Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking (the SESAR JU) is a public-private partnership established in 2007. It is in charge of the SESAR project’s research, development and validation processes in accordance with the ATM Master Plan of which the SESAR JU is also the "guardian" and the executor.

The SES policy addresses issues that go beyond national and industry sectoral interests. The general objective is to eliminate internal market barriers in the skies. The SES policy is aimed at speeding up progress towards efficiency, cost effectiveness, positive environmental impact, etc. The existing stakeholder partnership that pools resources from both public and private partners across Europe has worked collaboratively and efficiently, and its support is as essential today as it was when the SESAR JU was first set up. ATM research in Europe needs to be stable and long term to support its lengthy innovation cycles.

The SESAR JU's objectives are

  • To ensure the concentration and coordination of all relevant ATM research activities in the EU to implement the ATM Master Plan;

  • To contribute to achieving the Single European Sky (SES) performance targets (see Memo 13/525);

  • To provide an efficient implementing instrument for:

  1. Pooling and coordinating public and private investments in research in a cooperative spirit and bringing together the key actors from the ATM sector across Europe in order to implement the ATM Master Plan;

  2. Enhancing the exchange of knowledge between actors and disciplines; and

  3. Gathering the necessary resources to validate the operational results of research.

Who is part of the SESAR Joint Undertaking?

The SESAR JU is composed of 2 founding Members (the EU and Eurocontrol) and 15 Members representing all ATM stakeholders: civil and military air navigation service providers, aircraft manufacturer Airbus, equipment manufacturers such as Thales, Indra, Alenia Aermacchi, Frequentis, Selex SI and Honeywell and, airports. In addition, the Joint Undertaking involves airspace users, staff associations, scientific institutions and a number of Associate Partners, performing activities that complete the Programme.

What are the main achievements of the SESAR JU so far?

  1. 4D trajectory management is a cornerstone of the SESAR concept. Basically it introduces time, the fourth dimension, into the management of flight trajectories. This results in a very accurate and predictable trajectory of aircraft, compared to current systems, that can be shared with control centres ensuring optimal and safer flight operations.

  2. The SESAR JU has successfully conducted initial 4D trajectory flights in an operational environment supported by satellite based technology.

  3. The SWIM (System Wide Information Management infrastructure) introduces a complete change in how information is managed throughout the European ATM system. It is set to become the intranet of the future ATM system, and a prototype has already demonstrated that airports, weather information providers, airlines and air traffic control centres could exchange information instantaneously.

  4. The first remote control tower is ready for operation. This is a new concept where the air traffic service at an airport is performed somewhere else than in the local control tower. This concept will generate cost savings due to more efficient use of human resources and by avoiding the building and maintenance of control towers and facilities in some local airports.

  5. 10,000 flights, including 500 military, were already flown based on SESAR innovative solutions.

  6. 80% of SESAR projects have tested their output in a real-life environment.

Why do we need to extend the funding and mandate for the SESAR JU?

Regulation (EC) 219/2007 (the SESAR JU Regulation) establishes that the SESAR JU will cease to exist on 31 December 2016, as the Union funding for the Joint Undertaking had to be limited to the period covered by the Union’s 2007-2013 financial framework.

Today's proposal aims at extending the existing structure under the next financial framework, and more specifically under Horizon 2020, to continue coordinated ATM related research, development and validation activities. The purpose of the SESAR JU is, in fact, to coordinate all ATM related research efforts in the Union. Continuity in coordinating these research efforts is necessary to achieve the performance objectives of the SES.

The ATM Master Plan is the basis for the SESAR JU’s work programme. It organises the deployment of the SESAR concept in 3 progressive steps: Step 1 – aiming to provide the necessary technologies to synchronise the European ATM system through an efficient exchange of information amongst all the actors; Step 2 – will achieve more efficient planning of flight trajectories; and Step 3 – aims to achieve the highest level of performance through an integrated and seamless air/ground system. The current work programme of the SESAR JU is focused on delivering only Step 1 and most parts of Step 2. The activities to be carried out under the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework cover the highest maturity level of Step 2, for which the technology and operations are expected to be available by 2016, and the full scope of Step 3.

What will the new funding deliver?

The new funding will focus on

  1. developing means to allow airlines to fly their preferred (and more direct) routes, using new technologies for data exchange between air and ground;

  2. integrating new types of aircraft, such as drones, in the air traffic management system;

  3. optimising traffic management, in particular on the ground; for example to make the access to and exit from the runways more efficient and safer in all weather conditions.

Indicatively, the new budget will support ATM exploratory research (6%); applied research (47%), pre-industrial developments (28%) and large scale demonstration projects (9%).

What are the benefits of the way the SESAR JU works?

  • Within the SESAR JU, all relevant stakeholders are involved in decision making processes and share responsibilities. The extension of the SESAR JU's mandate will enable stakeholders to strengthen relationships with centres of excellence and deepen strategic partnerships. The SESAR JU will also be able to strengthen the link with the market, as suppliers are also involved in the Joint Undertaking; in the context of the timely deployment of SESAR, this will bring a definite advantage in setting up the necessary demonstration activities.

  • The coordination, programming and execution of SESAR related research and innovation as well as validation activities are the JU's responsibility. This ensures continuity and avoids fragmentation of research and innovation. Mutual interdependencies and coordination mechanisms between participants and projects are integrated into an overarching European concept and the system architecture is ensured through multilateral contractual agreements.

  • By opting for the public-private partnership approach at EU level, it is possible to ensure that the SES objectives of high societal relevance such as safety and decarbonisation are integrated in the Programme. This approach has allowed the pooling of funding and know-how, as well as reducing fragmentation created by similar national and regional projects, harnessing the skills and innovation capacity of the private sector within appropriate risk sharing arrangements.

  • The deployment of SESAR could bring substantial economic, social and environmental benefits with an estimated impact of €428 billion2. By pooling resources, involving all ATM stakeholders, properly managing conflict of interest, the SESAR JU ensures the accomplishment of the SESAR Programme, which is essential for the achievement of the SES goals.

  • The SESAR JU, now a recognised reference point in the domain of modernisation of ATM systems, will continue to enable the EU to enjoy a strong position on the international scene generally and standardisation bodies more specifically.

What are the costs?

Currently, the SESAR JU manages an investment of €2.1 billion over the period covered by the current Multi-Annual Financial Framework (2007-2013). Each founding Member (the Union and Eurocontrol) is providing €700 m, an additional €700m is provided by the industry. The Commission proposes earmarking an amount of up to EUR 600 million3 under the Horizon 2020 programme.

More information

1 :

SESAR, The Roadmap for Sustainable Air Traffic Management – European ATM Master Plan (edition 2), October 2012.

2 :

Assessing the macroeconomic impact of SESAR, SESAR Joint Undertaking (2011).

3 :

Indicative amount in current prices. The amount will depend on the final agreed amount for Directorate-General Mobility and Transport for the theme 'Smart, green and integrated transport' which will be approved by the Budgetary Authority in the final version of the legislative and financial statement.

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