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Boosting innovation

Posted: 11 December 2009 | Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission | No comments yet

The aviation industry is faced with many challenges that will need to be overcome if it is to remain sustainable. Airlines and airports across Europe are finding it difficult to increase their capacity while cutting back costs and reducing the impact of aviation on the environment. This situation has been made all the more difficult by the recent economic crisis. These problems are too big for any individual company to tackle alone. They have to be tackled at the European level.

The aviation industry is faced with many challenges that will need to be overcome if it is to remain sustainable. Airlines and airports across Europe are finding it difficult to increase their capacity while cutting back costs and reducing the impact of aviation on the environment. This situation has been made all the more difficult by the recent economic crisis. These problems are too big for any individual company to tackle alone. They have to be tackled at the European level.

The European Union launched the first Single European Sky (SES) legislation in 2000 to help the industry cope with safety, environmental and organisational challenges. This year it adopted the second legislative SES package to remove even more obstacles, promote collaboration between different stakeholders and stimulate innovation.

One milestone is the creation of Functional Airspace Blocks. Currently, international flights pass through airspace blocks held by different national authorities, leading to bottlenecks and delays. The creation of Functional Airspace Blocks (an airspace block based on operational requirements and established regardless of State boundaries) will enable air traffic controllers to manage flights more rationally – freeing up capacity and reducing fuel emissions. Functional Airspace Blocks were already mentioned in the first SES package, but not enough progress was made on this. The new regulation, adopted in September 2009, will kick-start their development by stipulating that Functional Airspace Blocks must be established by no later than June 2012.

The second legislative package will also give a boost to innovation by introducing performance schemes for air navigation services, using criteria based on International Civil Aviation Organisation policies. This will encourage air navigation service producers to continuously improve their performance. In addition, airports that are involved in SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) can already help to develop technical solutions for improving airport operations. This includes connecting local operations with those in Functional Airspace Blocks and European-wide operations, to improve coordination and increase capacity.

Safety is also a key part of the SES II package. The competences of the European Aviation Safety Agency have been extended to airports and ATM systems, providing the Agency with a total approach remit for safety in Europe. The Agency will be able to ensure precise, uniform and binding rules for airport safety, air traffic management and air navigation services, at a time when air traffic is rising and more routes are being created. The economic crisis forces us to focus on measures which really make the difference. Luckily, the new legislative package can already help to alleviate the financial burden for our aviation industry in the short term. For instance, some Functional Airspace Blocks are already in a position to give some immediate operational benefits, such as a “night” network, or cutting maintenance costs through the cross-border sharing of equipment. We call upon Member States, service providers and airport operators to look for other quick wins.

Airports play a vital role in all of this. Airports will be active in implementing the performance based regulation, including the network management function, as they are key elements in this network. Airports are also strongly involved in the SESAR Programme; several airport operators are Members of the SESAR Joint Undertaking and the Airport Council International sits on the Administrative Board of the SESAR JU to represent the European Airport Community. Airports’ collaboration is also needed to help improve capacity and reduce the environmental impact of aviation.

The aviation industry has survived many crises before – such as the 1973 oil crisis and the impact of the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001, and I have no doubt we will overcome today’s challenges as well. I strongly believe that the Single European Sky is part of the solution and together with airports we can make it work.

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