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Single European Sky: MEPs ready to start negotiations

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European airspace management should be fine-tuned to optimize flight routes, reduce flight delays and cut CO2 emissions, said the Transport and Tourism Committee, TRAN.

The negotiating mandate on the reform of the Single European Sky rules, adopted by the Transport and Tourism Committee on Thursday by 39 votes to seven and two abstentions, proposes ways to modernize the management of European airspace in order to reduce flight delays, optimise flight routes, cut costs and CO2 emissions in the aviation sector.

Streamline European airspace management

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Transport Committee MEPs want to reduce fragmentation in European airspace management and optimise flight routes, i.e. have more direct flights. They support streamlining the European airspace management system by setting up independent national supervisory authorities (NSAs), responsible for issuing air navigation service providers and airport operators with economic licences to operate, as well as implementing airspace management performance plans, to be set by the new Performance Review Body, operating under the auspices of EU Safety Aviation Agency (EASA).

The rules on expanding EASA’s mandate was adopted by 38 votes to 7 and 3 abstentions. The committee also voted in favour to give a mandate for the start of inter-institutional talks by 41 vote to 5 and 2 abstentions.

Greener flights

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MEPs on the Transport and Tourism Committee stress that the Single European Sky should follow the Green Deal and contribute to the goal of climate neutrality with up to a 10% reduction in climate-impacting emissions

The Commission shall adopt the EU performance targets on capacity, cost efficiency, climate change and environmental protection for air navigation services, MEPs say. They also suggest that charges levied on airspace users (airlines or private planes operators) for the provision of air navigation services should encourage them to be more environmentally friendly, for example, by promoting alternative clean propulsion technologies.

Open up the market

As MEPs want more competition between air-traffic controllers, they suggest that one or a group of member states should choose air-traffic service providers through a competitive tender, unless it would result in cost inefficiency, operational, climate or environmental loss, or inferior working conditions. The same logic would apply when choosing other air navigation services, such as communication, meteorological or aeronautical information services.

Rapporteurs’ quotes

EP rapporteur Marian-Jean Marinescu (EPP, RO) said: “Europe’s current airspace architecture is built according to national borders. This aviation nationalism means longer flights, more delays, extra costs for passengers, higher emissions, and more pollution. With a truly Single European Sky and a unified European air management system, we would create a new airspace architecture based not on borders but on efficiency. Unfortunately, the position adopted recently by the Council is based on national concerns. Therefore we urge Member States to fly high, so we can finally address the problems of cost, fragmentation and emissions plaguing European aviation”.

The rapporteur on EASA rules, Bogusław Liberadzki (S&D, PL), added: “We strongly believe that the Single European Sky should be quickly implemented to bring more common European standards and procedures between member states. After the COVID-19 crisis, we are ready to boost economic and environmental efficiency in European aviation.”

Next steps

This vote on the Single European Sky rules constitutes the update of Parliament’s negotiating position adopted back in 2014 and therefore reconfirms MEPs’ readiness to start inter-institutional talks with EU Council shortly. The negotiations on the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules are expected to start in parallel, after the result of the committee vote is announced in plenary, possibly during the June II or July session.

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Aviation Strategy for Europe

Single European Sky: Lowering emissions and reducing delays

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MEPs want to modernize the EU's airspace management to make it more efficient and greener, Society.

Updating Single European Sky rules should help the aviation sector become more efficient, ensuring shorter flights through more direct routes and thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions, say MEPs.

The Single European Sky initiative was launched in 1999, in a period marked by a large increase in flights and growing delays that highlighted the need for better coordination.

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MEPs want the rules to be reformed to make EU airspace less fragmented and improve air traffic management. This would  increase safety and efficiency, lower costs and benefit the environment.

Currently, airlines may not fly directly to the landing point. They may want to avoid flying over states with higher charges, avoid military zones or take a longer route to avoid the weather. That can mean longer flights and more emissions. Fragmentation can also cause delays due to less-than-optimal coordination.

MEPs say airspace management rules need to be further developed and adapted to evolving markets, the new digital environment and the European Green Deal. They are pushing for new rules that would help achieve up to a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, by avoiding longer routes and promoting cleaner technologies.

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They also want to make European airspace more competitive and support choosing air-traffic service providers and other air navigation services such as communication and meteorological services through competitive tenders.

Background

Current Single European Sky rules date from 2009. The European Commission proposed a revision in 2013 that was adopted by Parliament in 2014. Following the failure of the Council to reachan  agreement, the Commission proposed an upgrade in line with the European Green Deal in 2020.

On 17 June 2021, Parliament's transport and tourism committee updated their negotiating mandate on the Single European Sky reform and adopted their position on expanding the mandate of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to act as a performance review body. After the latter position was announced during the July plenary session, MEPs are ready for negotiations with the Council.

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Aviation Strategy for Europe

Commission calls for simple solutions for consumers seeking compensation for cancelled flights

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The European Commission and consumer authorities are calling on airlines to improve their handling of flight cancellations. The Commission and national consumer authorities have called on airlines to improve how they deal with cancellations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Airlines operating in the EU are urged to improve their practices with the help of a list of measures drawn up jointly by the Commission and the consumer protection group, CPC network. The initiative is in response to the huge number of consumer complaints received by those trying to exercise their air passenger rights and is based on the results of a survey launched earlier this year to collect data on the handling of complaints by 16 major airlines. The analysis of the answers provided highlighted a range of issues, including some airlines presenting the right to reimbursement in money less prominently than other options such as re-routing or vouchers, and implying that reimbursement is an act of good will, rather than a legal obligation.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “We have received a lot of complaints from consumers but we have also worked closely with airlines to understand where there are shortfalls and why. Airlines need to respect the rights of consumers when flights are cancelled. Today we are asking for simple solutions to give consumers certainty after a period of extreme turmoil.” 

The EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, said: “We are currently assessing regulatory options to reinforce passenger protections. We will continue to work with national authorities to have passengers' rights properly communicated, implemented and enforced. Passengers must have a real choice between vouchers and refunds.

"Most airlines surveyed also did not refund passengers within the seven-day time limit provided for by EU law. They must take action to ensure that this delay is respected for all new bookings – whether bought directly or through an intermediary – and to swiftly absorb the backlog of pending reimbursements, by 1 September 2021 at the latest."

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The European consumer organisation (BEUC) said: "It has been almost a year and a half since COVID19 started and many airlines are still in breach of consumer law."

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Aviation Strategy for Europe

Aviation sector welcomes updated EASA-ECDC Aviation Health Safety Protocol

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Leading aviation associationswelcomed the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)’s latest COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol, which acknowledges the positive epidemiological developments across Europe and low risk of virus transmission during air travel as part of updated measures to keep travel safe and smooth for passengers this summer. For the first time ever, the Protocol supports the use of Rapid Antigen Tests, particularly for passengers travelling from high-risk areas - and also calls for harmonisation of the measures across Europe.

This follows last week’s adoption of the latest Council Recommendations supporting the restart of intra-EU and third country travel, making use of the EU’s Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) system. Member states must now implement the DCC system by 1 July. EU countries have connected their national certificate systems to the EU gateway ahead of the deadline.

The updated Protocol echoes the Council Recommendation from 10 June 2021, proposing: “People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or who recovered from the disease in the last 180 days should not be subject to testing or quarantine, unless they are coming from an area of very high risk or where a Variant of Concern is circulating. For travel from such destinations, the requirement for a negative test could be considered. This could be either a Rapid Antigen Detection Test (RADT) taken no more than 48 hours before arrival or a PCR test no more than 72 hours before arrival.”

In a joint statement, the six associations said: “Protection of public health, including that of our staff and our passengers, continues to be aviation’s number one priority throughout this pandemic. Following successful vaccination programmes across Europe and an improved epidemiological outlook, these updated guidelines are very timely and will help to ensure a smooth and safe passenger journey. We are counting on EU Member States to now play their part and update the existing measures accordingly, so that passengers know what toexpect. This is crucially important for restoring passenger confidence and to help our sector’s recovery.”

The associations further welcome the following updates to the Protocol:

  • Flexibility regarding the requirement for continued physical distancing at airports, given that only fully vaccinated, recovered or tested passengers will be travelling. This will help ease operational challenges posed by the previous physical distancing measures. Both airports and aircraft continue to be extremely safe environments.
  • From a health safety perspective, verification of the DCC is best organised outside prior to departure.
  • Testing, where required, should be carried out before a flight rather than upon arrival or during transit;
  • Document checks should be limited to one single check prior to travel. Repeated checks, e.g. also upon arrival, serve very little medical purpose and could lead to unnecessary queuing.

Europe now has all the tools: the DCC, a digital Passenger Locator Form (dPLF) and Council Recommendations on international and intra-EU travel to ensure a safe and smooth reopening of air travel this summer. As vaccination rates increase and the epidemiological situation further improves, the six associations expect the last preventative measures to be further scaled back or removed as appropriate, in line with a reduction in the overall risk level.

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