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A Single European Sky
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by Loyola de Palacio, Vice-president, EC
04 the future of Mobility
Airspace is a valuable but finite resource. Due to the ever-increasing importance of air travel, inefficient use of its airspace has become a real constraint on Europeís economic growth and international competitiveness. It also jeopardises Europeís world-class air safety record, and undermines efforts to reduce the considerable greenhouse gas emissions of European air transport.
The radical overhaul of European air traffic management envisaged in the proposals for a single European sky is a key building block of the Community transport policy set out in the White Paper of September 2001. In March 2002, the European Council in Barcelona highlighted the urgency of bringing about the single European sky by 2004.
It is obvious to most airline passengers that if a European air traffic control system were to be designed from scratch it would look quite different from the frag-mented system we have today.
The present system, dating back to the 1960s, is patched together from even older national systems. It segments European airspace into small, inefficient blocks which use a variety of different air traffic control technologies.
This system is now showing signs of strain. In 2001, one out of every four European flights was delayed. Crisis point will soon be reached if air traffic control capacity improvements continue to lag behind increases in air traffic itself.
Earlier attempts to reform air traffic management, mainly centred on the pan-European air traffic organisation Eurocontrol, have created capacity but are insufficient to respond to fresh challenges.
The European Commissionís proposal for a single European sky is an ambitious attempt to reform the out-dated architecture of European air traffic control. It comes at a time when new air traffic and aircraft posi-tioning and communication technologies offer opportu-nities for significant improvements in the efficiency and safety of air travel.
The Commissionís aim is to encourage safe, efficient and dynamic use of European airspace, mirroring the single market for aviation services. Its objective is a system that will increase overall capacity as well as optimising the routes flown by aircraft.
The payoffs will be considerable Ė better use of con-gested airports, fewer delays, and reduced pollution. Airlines and their customers will benefit from shorter, cheaper flights, and safety will be improved by reducing the strain on pilots and controllers.
The Commission proposes, where necessary, to cut through current decision-making difficulties, building on co-operation where this has already proved successful, but offering new mechanisms where it has failed. The approach will involve consultations with stakeholders, such as controllers, airports and airlines.
National governments and air traffic service providers will be encouraged to team up to create a smaller number of larger, more efficient, blocks of managed airspace. These and other initiatives, negotiated by the stakeholders with the Commissionís support, will be given the legal force of Community decisions.
The time has come for Europe as a whole to create the single European sky.
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