Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport
The Single European Sky: 10 years on and still not delivering
Single European Sky conference/Limassol, Cyprus
11 October 2012
Ladies and gentlemen
Almost one year ago, I sounded an alarm bell about the poor progress made towards achieving the Single European Sky. That is the reason why I chose a particular title for my speech today: "10 years on and still not delivering".
The Single Sky is the logical partner to Europe's single transport market on the ground. This flagship project is a concrete example of where Europe can make a difference to its citizens by raising capacity, improving safety and cutting costs.
This was the original ambition more than a decade ago. Frankly, we remain a long way from creating a single European airspace. The project is still not delivering - but I believe that we have the tools to make it a success.
Air traffic control is still far too expensive. We are still hampered by a high level of delays. This is the situation today, mirroring the same situation last year.
So where do we stand today?
Firstly, the performance scheme, which is essential for the Single Sky to become a reality and success. Last July, we approved revised national performance plans since they were globally consistent with EU-wide targets for raising capacity and cutting costs.
But we made clear that countries differed widely in their efforts in making the recommended changes needed. On one hand, Spain and Portugal contributed significantly to achieving the cost targets. On the other, large Member States like France, Germany and the United Kingdom fell behind expectations.
Disappointingly, most countries did not even bother to revise their targets at all.
Accepting the plans was possible on the understanding that these countries would have to deliver ambitious reductions in the next reference period. In other words, some 'owe' the system from the first period – and their debt remains in the second. The Commission will take this into account when assessing the performance plans for the second reference period.
Now, as we prepare for the scheme's next phase, we must progress from planning to actual delivery. That will ensure Member States follow through on their obligations. Target setting for the second period will be decisive.
This is the only way for airspace users to benefit from higher cost-efficiency, safety and capacity, as well as a positive impact on the environment. Ambitious and evidence-based performance targets go to the heart of the entire project.
Ladies and gentlemen: have we really lost a decade?
Inefficiencies caused by Europe's fragmented airspace impose extra costs of around €5 billion per year. If you take that amount over the last 10 years, it exceeds the entire GDP of a Member State. That is an appalling waste of time and money, and puts an unnecessary extra burden on the environment.
Within 10 years, the air navigation cost of an average flight in Europe should have fallen from its €800 starting point to €600 - not the €715 it is today. That is still a long way off the price in the United States: a country which already controls the same airspace area, with more traffic, at roughly half the cost.
All this extra expense is borne by airlines and ultimately, by air passengers. So if Member States continue to fail to deliver, who suffers? Passengers, businesses and the European economy.
On the functional airspace blocks (FABs), another key element of the Single Sky: there are now just a few weeks left before the deadline for Member States to set them up.
Yes, the FABs are being established. I am happy to see that a major agreement between BLUEMED States will be signed in Limassol.
However, a signature is one thing. Delivering added value is what we expect.
At the moment, it is clear that they will make little if any contribution towards an integrated and defragmented airspace.
This raises the prospect of infringement proceedings against Member States for non-compliance. That was the clear message I made recently to ministers to request their urgent action, given that there seems to be an absence of political willingness about the FABs. We will not hesitate to act, and at this stage, it looks like infringements may well be necessary.
Ladies and gentlemen: the Single European Sky has consistently been my top aviation priority. It is too important to be allowed to fail. I am therefore determined to advance it within the term of this European Commission.
So what can we do to improve the performance of European aviation?
The underlying principles of the existing legislation remain valid. We don't have to return to the drawing board – and should now make some changes to gain speed and ensure delivery. We need to simplify and clarify this legislation.
In spring 2013, we will present proposals for what we call "SES 2+". This will accelerate implementation of the Single Sky, complement some initiatives which are not yet complete and strengthen the existing legislation.
We need to guard against the negative knock-on impact that one poorly functioning part of the network can have on the entire system. This will allow us to improve the network's overall performance and optimise capacity.
Performance plans should be set collectively rather than individually, with targets that can be assessed and enforced on a Europe-wide basis. Member States need to be made accountable if they do not meet their targets.
We also need to look at ways to reinforce the Performance Review Body.
Regarding FABs, we need to make sure that they deliver real operational improvements. FABs are a transition to a fully functional Single Sky, as national airspaces are gradually woven together.
They will be required to develop strategic and operational plans. It is not enough for FABs to exist merely on paper.
Then we need to examine the relationship between national regulators and service providers within today's weak European institutional structure. The situation is far from ideal, with patchy enforcement by national regulators leading to overlaps and gaps in the wider EU system. National regulators also need EU legislative support to ensure their independence.
Air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are either government departments, state-owned companies or private organisations. They wield a great deal of power. This impedes the sector consolidation that we need.
Services in a particular airspace may be provided by one single operator – a monopoly, in fact. That should not mean the same provider must also be responsible for all ancillary services in that airspace, such as data information.
If ANSPs focused more on their core business of air traffic management, there would be more competition for ancillary services. Of course, this would have to be done with proper care, and take safety considerations into account. But it would open the way for new entrants and business opportunities, as well as stimulating innovation and cutting costs.
We are moving towards a regulatory environment which is more streamlined, coherent and based on a market economy. Consequently we must have full separation of regulatory and oversight tasks from operational and service provision activities. This would lead to a single aviation authority and an industry-led European infrastructure manager, with centralised functions and services.
The European Aviation Safety Agency is progressively taking a role that will logically cover all aspects of technical rules and oversight in ATM, not just safety. Looking a little further ahead, this would allow Eurocontrol to focus on operational tasks such as running the network, where it is already doing an excellent job, but also to take on infrastructure management tasks such as the roll-out of SESAR deployment.
Lastly, SESAR: the essential technological pillar for making the Single Sky a success by driving its future performance.
We are developing the guidelines for governance and incentive mechanisms for deploying SESAR technologies that can address the needs of aviation in 2020 and beyond. There are two essential principles: deployment should be led by industry and based on SES performance.
SESAR's deployment is not simply an exercise in vanity; it will drive performance capacity, improve safety and contribute significantly to European growth. The timetable set out in the European ATM Master Plan is essential for achieving the SES performance objectives. Any delay puts the benefits of the Single European Sky at risk.
Ladies and gentlemen: will all this be enough, finally, to turn the Single European Sky into a reality? I am confident that it will. But time is running out fast, given the constant and rising demands on air travel and the aviation industry. We need to deliver now, before our airspace is no longer able to cope.
And to do that, we need to work together, urgently and efficiently - because failure is not an acceptable option.
Thank you for your attention.