EU Institutions Finalize Single European Sky Reform to Enhance Airspace Management

In a significant development for European aviation, the Council presidency and the European Parliament have provisionally concurred on the reform of the Single European Sky (SES 2+). The legislative initiative is poised to augment the efficacy of airspace management within the European Union (EU), addressing capacity demands and diminishing the aviation sector’s carbon footprint.

The reform encompasses an amended proposal for SES 2+ and an alteration to the EU Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) foundational regulation. These measures are intended to enhance airspace performance, organisation, and air navigation service provision, with a focus on increasing capacity, reducing costs, and enhancing adaptability. The overarching objective is to mitigate aviation’s environmental and climatic repercussions.

Belgian Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet lauded the provisional agreement, emphasising the anticipated progress in curtailing CO2 emissions from aviation. The minister acknowledged the remaining challenges in achieving carbon neutrality but praised the collaborative effort to establish a new legal framework for Europe’s airspace.

The provisional agreement maintains the principal objectives of the Single European Sky, calling for a reform that rises to capacity challenges while reducing environmental impact in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, it aims to influence the regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).

Under the new rules, a dedicated Performance Review Board will be established to counsel the Commission on the implementation of Performance and Charging Schemes. This board will be independent, permanent, and professional.

The agreement’s key elements include the designation of a national supervisory authority by each member state to ensure that air navigation service providers comply with economic requirements. This authority will collaborate with the entity responsible for certifying air navigation service providers.

Member states will have the option to integrate economic and safety oversight within a single administrative entity, simplifying bureaucracy and aligning with existing organisational models. Additionally, certain air navigation services may be opened to market conditions upon member state authorisation.

The Commission, in concert with national supervisory authorities, will evaluate the performance of air navigation services, guided by subsidiarity and proportionality principles. A Performance Review Board, funded by the EU budget, will assist in this process.

The provisional agreement introduces mandatory modulation of en route charges to incentivise airspace users to enhance climate and environmental performance. This is pending a cost-benefit analysis that confirms the feasibility and added value of such measures.

The agreement also bolsters the network perspective by instituting new network functions and delineating additional tasks for the current network manager, Eurocontrol, to promote sustainable and efficient airspace utilisation.

The aviation industry, however, was not pleased with the provisional agreement. Montserrat Barriga, ERA’s Director General commented; “ERA has continuously recognised the need for an ambitious and seamless Single European Sky, one that delivers for our airlines, our passengers and the environment. We are therefore disappointed that the final agreement appears to fall short of meeting these requirements. At first glance, several concessions appear to have been made which unfortunately reduces the likelihood of the substantial improvements that we have pushed for in terms of airspace capacity, operational efficiency and sustainability. It’s clear that further efforts will be required to address today’s aviation challenges effectively”.

The next procedural step involves the provisional agreement’s endorsement by the Council and the European Parliament. The Belgian presidency plans to present the text to Coreper for approval expeditiously. Once sanctioned, the draft legislative acts will undergo legal and linguistic scrutiny before formal adoption by the co-legislators, publication in the EU’s Official Journal, and enforcement 20 days post-publication.