Single European Sky: Commission Urges Eighteen Member States to Make a Decisive Move Towards Common Airspace Management

11 July 2014

Today the Commission has formally requested Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and United Kingdom, members of six different Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to improve their FABs, a common airspace arranged around traffic flows rather than state boundaries. FABs are a crucial step towards a more efficient, less costly and less polluting aviation system in Europe. 

Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: "we have to finally overcome national borders in the European airspace. FABs are a necessary, vital component of the Single European Sky. Right now these common airspaces exist only on paper; they are formally established but not yet functional. I urge Member States to step up their ambitions and push forward the implementation of the Single Sky" 

All EU Member States should have implemented their FABs by 4 December 2012 according to Regulation (EC) No 550/2004. The FAB between Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta (BLUEMED FAB) is still being formally established, whilst the State Agreements establishing the FAB between Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia (FABCE), the FAB between Bulgaria and Romania (DANUBE FAB), the FAB between Lithuania and Poland (BALTIC FAB), and the FAB between Spain and Portugal (SOUTHWEST FAB), and the UK/IRELAND FAB have come into force. 

Actual progress on these FABs' airspace reorganisations and on the effectiveness of their air navigation services has been slow. This means more delays, the consumption of more fuel and therefore more GHG emissions, and more money charged to airlines. With today's letters of formal notice the Commission asks Member States to act in order to optimise the implementation of FABs and air navigation services. 

Moreover, the lack of progress on FABs is holding back the full implementation of the EU's Single European Sky, which in turn generates inefficiencies in the entire European Air Traffic Management in the range of some 30 to 40 % of total air navigation costs and charges levied in Europe. This represents a loss of some 5 billion euros annually. Additionally, planned safety enhancements in the Single European Sky are negatively impacted. 

Under the Single European Sky legislation, national air traffic control organisations should work together in nine regional airspace blocks (Functional Airspace Blocks - FABs) to gain efficiency, cut costs and reduce emissions. The set-up of these common airspace blocks is arranged around traffic flows rather than state boundaries, which leads to performance improvements. 

The system of FABs is a cornerstone towards a single airspace that reduces the fragmentation along national borders in air traffic management. Setting up a proper FABs system will bring the following benefits: 

  • Higher safety standards: by enabling airplanes to fly without dealing with border crossings, FABs will remove the risk of border interference and national inconsistencies in safety procedures.
  • Reduced costs and fuel consumption: by enabling airplanes to fly straighter lines at better altitudes, FABs are expected to save fuel and reduce delays. This in turn will improve the service delivered to passengers, bring benefits to the environment both in terms of noise and emissions, and reduce the cost of flying, to the tune of billions of euros annually.

These benefits mean that FABs are absolutely essential to the success of the EU's Single European Sky and an important component of the single market, which allows citizens to freely travel, live and work anywhere in the EU. 

Article 9a of Regulation (EC) No 550/2004 mandated the full implementation of FABs as defined in Article 2(25) of Regulation (EC) No 549/2004 by all EU Member States by 4 December 2012, with a regulatory obligation to enable optimum use of airspace in capacity and in flight efficiency, as well as an obligation to deliver optimised air navigation services across the EU. 

Next steps 
After the FAB Europe Central (FABEC) in April, now BLUEMED, DANUBE and FABCE are receiving letters of formal notice from the Commission. 

After the release of letters of formal notice, Member States have two months to react and send their considerations. On this basis the European Commission may or may not issue a Reasoned Opinion in accordance with Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. 



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