Single European Sky (SES) objectives in sight

Posted: 3 April 2007 | Mr. Bernard Martens, Chairman of FAB Europe Steering Group

In 2006, six countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland – undertook to take a step closer towards the Single European Sky objectives and to closely cooperate to enhance air traffic management in the core area of Europe. The “Functional Airspace Block (FAB) Europe Central” feasibility study, which kicked off in July 2006, lays the groundwork for one of the most ambitious initiatives aimed at redrawing the core European airspace.

In 2006, six countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland – undertook to take a step closer towards the Single European Sky objectives and to closely cooperate to enhance air traffic management in the core area of Europe. The “Functional Airspace Block (FAB) Europe Central” feasibility study, which kicked off in July 2006, lays the groundwork for one of the most ambitious initiatives aimed at redrawing the core European airspace.

It is a common project of the States’ civil aviation and military authorities, the area’s seven air navigation service providers – Belgocontrol (Belgium), the Direction des Services de la Navigation Aérienne (France), Deutsche Flugsicherung (Germany), EUROCONTROL Maastricht UAC, the Administration de l’Aéroport (Luxembourg), Luchtverkeersleiding Nederland (the Netherlands) and skyguide (Switzerland) – the military service providers and it is supported by the Director General of EUROCONTROL. “FAB Europe Central” aims to increase air traffic management performance – safety, capacity and efficiency – and achieve economies of scale to meet the challenges of a growing industry as well as the growing concerns for the environment and sustainability.

Supporting a growing air transport industry

Aviation experts today agree that a doubling of air travel can be expected in Europe in the next twenty years. The European Commission’s Single European Sky was launched in 2004 to meet the challenges brought about by a fast-growing air transport industry. This initiative aims to create a seamless, flexible and harmonised ATM network, independent of territorial boundaries and generating increased benefits in terms of safety, capacity and efficiency.

Through legislation, the Single European Sky is setting the scene for States and service providers to closely cooperate with one another and achieve tangible improvements in what is still a fragmented European air traffic management (ATM) system. With the Airspace Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 551/2004) explicitly requiring States to establish Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) through a process of mutual agreement by 2009, six States in the core area of Europe have decided to explore the feasibility of creating a large FAB covering most of the busy core area of Europe in both upper and lower airspace, the so-called “FAB Europe Central”.

States in the core area of Europe already have sound experience in cross-border service delivery and can build on it when creating a FAB. The project will leverage the significant expertise available within the different air navigation service provider organisations on air traffic management matters for the benefit of all airspace users.

Simplifying European airspace

The core area of Europe is one of the densest and most complex volumes of airspace in the world. With the exception of the cross-border EUROCONTROL Maastricht Centre, it is in the main still organised along national boundaries. The “FAB Europe Central” airspace, criss-crossed every year by some 5.5 million flights, will cover a total area in excess of 1.7 million km2. This airspace is characterised by closely interlaced civil and military air traffic routes. In addition, it includes most of the busiest European airports (such as Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Geneva), and its civil and military airports are in close proximity of one another. All this results in dense terminal and en-route air traffic, with flows constrained between military training areas.

With “FAB Europe Central”, a performance-driven unified operational air traffic management concept for the airspace of the six States will be implemented. In order to support the optimum use of the available capacity, the optimum degree of cooperation between military and civil ATM will be applied throughout the FAB.

Validating a vision – the feasibility study

The vision of achieving common performance-orientated solutions independent of territorial boundaries via “FAB Europe Central” will be validated by a detailed feasibility study, launched in 2006 and due to be completed in the course of 2008.

The scope of the study encompasses the investigation of the main operational areas (i.e. civil and military operation of control centres and approach, tower services for major airports, contingency, airspace design and management, flow management, flexible use of airspace, and enhancement of ATM capacities). On the same level, it also includes technical systems and services, safety, finance and economics, human resources and social issues, institutional, legal and regulatory issues, the centralisation of specific functions or services, and civil-military issues.

It will focus though on the most important items that can deliver a positive result for the cost benefit analysis.

The decision to establish “FAB Europe Central” will be based on the study’s main deliverables, i.e. a FAB master plan, safety case, cost-benefit analysis, economic and financial cooperation model, a FAB management structure, human resources considerations, a cooperation agreement between service providers, and a States agreement. A communications plan will furthermore ensure that all stakeholders – civil and military airspace users, staff, neighbouring States and service providers, regulators, industry, airports, the European Commission and EUROCONTROL – are being consulted and indeed involved along the way.

The study will propose a roadmap featuring a step-by-step approach which will initially give precedence to tangible, short-term improvements as opposed to a long-term overhaul. While some improvements will require fundamental changes and even paradigm shifts, other improvements to the current framework can be achieved as quick wins.

But the feasibility study is only the beginning of the overhaul process. Pending its outcome, the six States and the air navigation service providers may commit to a FAB Masterplan Phase and a FAB Implementation Phase.

Cooperative FAB project organisation

The project organisation reflects the cooperative approach for the development of the FAB.
The Directors General of Civil Aviation, military authorities, CEOs of the air navigation service provider organisations and the Director General of EUROCONTROL are represented in a High-Level Policy Group, whereas representatives of the civil aviation authorities and civil and military air navigation service providers are overseeing the project process in a Steering Group. The project itself is managed by a Project Management Office comprising a project manager and the working group leaders.

The challenges

“FAB Europe Central” is a large and complex project with associated risks. It encompasses several States, various cultures, many operational and technical systems and different political mindsets. To ensure the success of this key development in the European integration process, all partners need to work together with the principles of transparency, cooperation and common understanding. The risks for “FAB Europe Central” are being monitored and evaluated, particularly with regard to the issues of achieving a seamless interface with the rest of the European network, reaching agreement on an acceptable solution for civil and military airspace users, overcoming institutional differences, minimising the social impact, carrying out a sound cost-benefit analysis, reaching agreement on the charging regime, and setting up a seamless regulatory framework. Most significantly, the roadmap will have to be shared with the social partners, who will be the main actors in the forthcoming change process.

Airspace users, FAB partners

The airspace users expect more capacity, flexibility and a better service at lower prices – and the improvements must take place at the earliest opportunity. The active consultation of the airspace users in the development of “FAB Europe Central” is therefore paramount to the success of the undertaking; meetings on strategic and operational options have already taken place and will span the whole duration of the feasibility study. Air navigation service providers will define a common performance management framework, with a strong focus on user expectations. Through a joint customer consultation scheme, changes to procedures, systems and air navigation services will be discussed well in advance.

Gradual process but quick wins given precedence

To meet the legitimate demands of the customers in this ambitious effort, precedence will be given to a realistic and pragmatic approach, and early benefits on the road to a de-fragmented air traffic management system in the core area of Europe are to be reaped as soon as possible.

Coordinated technical development planning will lead to common systems to support a longer-term operational roadmap. On the way to this longer-term perspective, a plan will be put in place, based on efficiency and effectiveness criteria, to accelerate the commonality of systems.

To extend the current flexible use of airspace into the FAB, the study partners will seek to define a seamless airspace design with a harmonised set of rules and regulations. This may include, where practicable, the redesigning of military and civil airspace, independently of national boundaries.

In parallel, the envisaged ATM concept will support the current developments at European level such as the EUROCONTROL DMEAN (Dynamic Management of the European Airspace Network) framework and the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme.

“FAB Europe Central” – building block of Europe’s future ATM system

With its performance-driven operations, “FAB Europe Central” promises to be a key building block of the Single European Sky. While its benefits must be validated and quantified by the feasibility study, its impact is likely to be significant in terms of accommodating the expected traffic growth in a seamless upper and lower airspace, optimising air traffic flows, enhancing civil-military cooperation, sharing technical and human resources, coordinating research and development activities, as well as managing and developing new activities – all this in the most competitive manner, achieving economies of scale.

Building on the experience already gained in Benelux and Germany, more than 3,500 km of territorial boundaries within the six States will be removed. The next step will be to agree on simplified, rationalised outer borders with neighbouring FABs and achieve a seamless interface with the rest of the European ATM network, reaping the real efficiency gains promised by the Single European Sky.

“With a view to achieving maximum capacity and efficiency of the air traffic management network within the Single European Sky, and with a view to maintaining a high level of safety, the upper airspace shall be reconfigured into functional airspace blocks.”

Article 5 of the airspace Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 551/2004)

Responding to continuing demands for increases in the safety, capacity and efficiency of the European air traffic management system, the European Communities adopted four regulations in 2004 for the implementation of the Single European Sky (SES). In a bid to create a single unified European upper airspace, the SES Framework Regulation introduced the notion of functional airspace blocks (FABs). With the SES Airspace Regulation explicitly requiring States to establish FABs through a process of mutual agreement by 2009, six States in the core area of Europe have decided to explore the feasibility of creating a FAB.

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