EU to fund €3 bn for unified European air traffic management

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), said yesterday in Brussels that it will sign a partnership agreement with major air traffic management (ATM) stakeholders to provide up to €3 billion ($3.7 billion) in funding in order to modernise Europe's ATM system.

The stakeholders' consortium, which includes four airlines, 25 airport operators and 11 air navigation service providers, will execute common projects under single European sky ATM research (SESAR) programme, aiming to manage more flights in a safer and less-costly manner and reduce the environmental impact of European air traffic.

Commissioner Violeta Bulc said, "Today's agreement is a great achievement for EU aviation, forever changing Europe's air navigation system, making it smarter, cheaper, greener, and safer.''

''It also marks an important step towards the accomplishment of the single European sky. These projects will translate into economic benefits for the whole EU with a contribution of over €400 billion to its GDP, the creation of over 300,000 new jobs and saving 50 million tons of CO2 emissions," Bulc further stated.

SESAR joint undertaking is a public-private partnership formed in 2007 to coordinate all the ATM related research and development activities in the EU. It aims to develop a new generation of ATM system capable of coping with growing air traffic, under the safest, most cost-efficient and environmentally friendly conditions.

The deployment phase of the project envisaged during 2014-2020 would see large-scale production and implementation of the new air traffic management infrastructure composed of fully harmonised and interoperable components which guarantee high performance air transport activities in Europe.

European air space is among the busiest in the world with over 33,000 fights daily and airport density in Europe is very high, making air traffic control more complex in the region.

Currently, most of Europe's air traffic management systems are based on technologies of 1950's and have limited capacities to handle ever increasing air traffic over the continent.

Compared to the US, European air space is fragmented and structured around national territories and flights often have to take longer routes to their destinations.

 ''On average, in Europe, aircraft fly 42 km longer than strictly necessary due to airspace fragmentation, causing longer flight time, delays, extra fuel burn and CO2 emissions,'' said the commission.

An EU study indicates member states lose up to €4 billion annually as a result of the outdated structure.

Air traffic is forecast to rise by 50 per cent to 14.4 million flights a year by 2035 and existing congestion would only worsen and could undermine Europe's position as a leading aviation hub, according to the commission.

The EU's decision is considered as a landmark move by the aviation industry towards achieving a more unified and high-performance European airspace.

''This collaboration shows how committed all of us in the industry are to working together to modernise Europe's airspace,'' commented Richard Deakin, director of NATS, UK's leading provider of air traffic control services.

Although EU members agree in principle on a single sky, its implementation has been prolonging over one and a half decades since the idea was originally mooted due to difference of opinions and opposition from workers' unions.

In parallel with SESAR, the US is implementing its next generation air transportation system (NextGen) in stages between 2012-2025, which is expected to transform America's air traffic control system from ground-based to satellite-based aiming to shorten routes, save time and fuel, reduce delays, increase capacity and improve safety.