A legislative proposal could rationalize Europe's airspace, permitting more direct flights and a 12% reduction in carbon emissions. But controllers are concerned
The European Parliament on Wednesday was set to approve a legislative package on the so-called single European sky, aimed at shortening commercial airline routes, decreasing CO2 emissions and lowering ticket prices by 2012. Air traffic controllers however are opposed to parts of the plans, saying privatisation of air traffic systems threatens safety.
Under the deal, already agreed with EU leaders and the EU commission, current national air spaces would be pooled into "functional airspace blocks" by 2012, which would allow airplanes to fly shorter and more direct routes from one airport to another.
The functional blocks would still be negotiated by member states, but a special EU co-ordinator for this process would be appointed at the proposal of the EU Parliament, Romanian centre-right MEP Marian Jean Marinescu, the rapporteur for this legislative package told the plenary on Tuesday (24 March).
Currently, member states have financial interests in longer routes flying over their territories, as this results in higher overflight fees. Only the UK and Ireland currently have such functional air arrangements. When implemented, the reform, which kicked off in 1999, would result in routes shortened by 50 kilometres for every 800 kilometres flown and in CO2 emission reductions of at least 12 percent, MEPs highlighted at the debate.
The mapping of the new commercial airspaces would also take into account restricted military areas, MEPs said.
They also noted that the EU has 60 different national control centres for the sky, twice as many as the US for half as large an area.
"This is a response to a crisis in the air sector. In the present financial year, profits have fallen by €3.5 billion and by 10 percent in passenger numbers. We have to make it easier for them to reduce costs. The whole reform should allow the saving of some €40 billion," EU commissioner for transport Antonio Tajani said at the same debate.
Shortening the routes was a welcome move, Volker Dick, president of the EU air traffic controllers unions told this website.
However, unions were "totally against" the privatisation of air traffic systems. "We believe that competition in air traffic management system will be detrimental to safety," he said, citing examples from other transport sectors, such as railway, where this was the case.
Admitting that the package was a done deal now, he said that the unions would continue to negotiate against the full privatisation of this sector via Eurocontrol, the bloc's aviation agency.
New air traffic system
Meanwhile, Eurocontrol on Monday put a new air traffic-control system designed to double the number of planes over Europe while cutting flight times and airport congestion.
The new technology will save airlines about €4 billion euros a year in wasted fuel, according to Eurocontrol.
The system is meant to eliminate the necessity for planes to travel along "air lanes" corresponding to lines of ground-based radio beacons. The lanes have become the equivalent of aerial highways – flights are funneled in at one end and then wait in line to land at the other.
Using Global Positioning Systems that track planes using satellites, the new system will eliminate the reliance on the radio beacons. Instead of placing a flight into an air lane, an air traffic controller can pick from a wide variety of routes between airports.