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Aviation Strategy for Europe

Single European Sky: For a more sustainable and resilient air traffic management

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The European Commission is proposing an upgrade of the Single European Sky regulatory framework which comes on the heels of the European Green Deal. The objective is to modernize the management of European airspace and to establish more sustainable and efficient flightpaths. This can reduce up to 10% of air transport emissions.

The proposal comes as the sharp drop in air traffic caused by the coronavirus pandemic calls for greater resilience of our air traffic management, by making it  easier to adapt traffic capacities to demand.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean declared: “Planes are sometimes zig-zagging between different blocks of airspace, increasing delays and fuel consumed. An efficient air traffic management system means more direct routes and less energy used, leading to less emissions and lower costs for our airlines. Today's proposal to revise the Single European Sky will not only help cut aviation emissions by up to 10% from a better management of flight paths, but also stimulate digital innovation by opening up the market for data services in the sector. With the new proposed rules we help our aviation sector advancing on the dual green  and digital transitions.”

Not adapting air traffic control capacities would result in additional costs, delays and CO2 emissions. In 2019, delays alone cost the EU €6 billion, and led to 11.6 million tonnes (Mt) of excess CO2. Meanwhile, obliging pilots to fly in congested airspace rather than taking a direct flight path entails unnecessary CO2 emissions, and the same is the case when airlines are taking longer routes to avoid charging zones with higher rates.

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The European Green Deal, but also new technological developments such as wider use of drones, have put digitalization and decarbonization of transport at the very heart of EU aviation policy. However, curbing emissions remains a major challenge for aviation. The Single European Sky therefore paves the way for a European airspace that is used optimally and embraces modern technologies. It ensures collaborative network management that allows airspace users to fly environmentally-optimal routes. And it will allow digital services which do not necessarily require the presence of local infrastructure.

To secure safe and cost-effective air traffic management services, the Commission proposes actions such as:

  • Strengthening the European network and its management to avoid congestion and suboptimal flight routes;
  • promoting a European market for data services needed for a better air traffic management;
  • streamlining the economic regulation of air traffic services provided on behalf of member states to stimulate greater sustainability and resilience, and;
  • boosting better co-ordination for the definition, development and deployment of innovative solutions.

Next Steps

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The current proposal will be submitted to the Council and the Parliament for deliberations, which  the Commission hopes will be concluded without delay.

Subsequently, after final adoption of the proposal, implementing and delegated acts will need to be prepared with experts to address more detailed and technical matters.

Background

The Single European Sky initiative was launched in 2004 to reduce fragmentation of the airspace over Europe, and to improve the performance of air traffic management in terms of safety, capacity, cost-efficiency and the environment.

A proposal for a revision of the Single European Sky (SES 2+) was put forward by the Commission in 2013, but negotiations have been stalled in Council since 2015. In 2019, a Wise Person's Group, composed of 15 experts in the field, was set up to assess the current situation and future needs for air traffic management in the EU, which resulted in several recommendations. The Commission then amended its 2013 text, introducing new measures, and drafted a separate proposal to amend the EASA Basic Regulation. The new proposals are accompanied by a Staff Working Document, presented here.

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Questions and Answers: Single European Sky: for an efficient and sustainable air traffic management

 

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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