Single European Sky

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Single European Sky ( SES ; English for a European airspace ) describes the efforts of the European Commission since the end of the 1990s to restructure the European airspace from the point of view of optimizing traffic flows and at the same time to dissolve its fragmentation by national borders and interests by adding a a limited number of functional airspace blocks (FABs) is created.

initial situation

In Europe, various systems are joining together to form a highly fragmented patchwork quilt, making modern and customer-oriented air traffic control more difficult. Air traffic control in Europe is monitored by around 50 air traffic control points , a few hundred approach control points and control towers in over 650 sectors, whose boundaries often have to adapt to national borders and are therefore restricted in their functionality. When flying into a new sector, a pilot has to change the radio frequency and contact the nearest air traffic controller . He needs the green light from all the authorities concerned, who are dictating the flight route and altitude for the aircraft . Depending on the procedures for flying through a zone and the meteorological conditions, the flight direction, flight speed and flight altitude change continuously. Switching from one sector to the next only works on the basis of comprehensive agreements between the control centers.

Closely related to geographic fragmentation is the nested control system used to monitor airspace. In 1999 there were still 41 national air traffic control systems that monitored the respective air sovereignty. Even if three years later, in 2002, there were only 17 air traffic control systems, today there are still 27 different air traffic control systems causing frequent changes in the responsible air traffic control centers. According to the European Commission, this fragmentation leads to higher costs for the users of the airspace. In comparison with other air traffic control systems in the world, it is striking that Europe scores poorly in terms of frictionlessness and the associated punctuality, cost efficiency, productivity and safety. For example, although the US has twice as many flights as Europe, there are 74 percent fewer delays and air traffic control costs. However, the comparison between America and Europe must be viewed critically, as the structure of air traffic, the working conditions of air traffic controllers and the underlying financing are very different.

While air traffic was still characterized by very long delays at the beginning of the millennium, this situation has improved significantly in recent years, partly due to increasingly stagnating air traffic. Eurocontrol reports that the delay situation in Europe has improved significantly. The best reported capacity value was achieved in 2012. The share of air traffic control-related delays in Europe was around 8% in 2012; the airlines were responsible for 54% of the minutes of delays that occurred primarily. At the same time, it is expected that the volume of traffic in the air will continue to increase over the next few years. EUROCONTROL anticipates an increase in flight movements in Europe of around 17% in the years 2012 to 2019, i.e. almost 3% per year.

Because every air navigation service provider also works in legal and regulatory frameworks with national airspace regulations and procedures, there are wide divergent services in terms of aviation security , capacity and cost efficiency. The different security level of the individual control centers is a particular problem. Only a third of the EU member states can currently publish satisfactory accident reports, which represent an important basis for any safety management. In a global comparison, even the EU members with the largest surface area have to control very little airspace, but all the more flights. Taking into account the enormous volume of flights in the European Union , it becomes clear that the air traffic control centers will soon reach their capacity limits.

The fragmentation of the European sky also creates a cost problem. Eurocontrol, the European organization founded in 1963 by six EU members to develop a seamless, pan-European air traffic control system, estimates that the costs of fragmentation and inefficiency amount to around a billion euros per year. In addition, there are high maintenance costs for the air traffic control centers, which could be reduced considerably by rationalizing the individual control points. A cost reduction is also necessary, not least, because aviation companies have little room for maneuver and thus high cost pressure.

Another point is the inflexibility in terms of managing the individual control centers. Each center must be staffed with a team of air traffic controllers who need two to four years to operate in an acceptable number of sectors. This leads to low productivity, with an air traffic control hour accounting for an average of 0.1 to 1.6 flight hours, depending on the circumstances in the respective air traffic control center. In addition, there is an excessive variety of internal management systems such as operating systems or programming languages . The situation also has an inhibiting effect on the development of new technologies . The air traffic management is comparatively a European niche market , so aircraft parts manufacturers little motivation to develop new technologies, and instead focus on customized systems use.



The European Community recognized the problem of the fragmentation of European airspace in the late 1990s. By October 2001, a group of high-level representatives from military and civil air traffic control agencies set up by the Commission - the High Level Group - worked with representatives from the industry and trade unions to develop a package of proposals on air traffic management . A master plan was drawn up showing the steps to be taken.

The project was divided into three work phases. From 2005 to 2008 there was talk of a “definition phase”. There it was determined which requirements the project must meet. It was checked which measures must be taken in order to achieve the requirements identified. From 2008 to 2013 the "development phase" followed. Among other things, this laid down the specific steps required to implement the project. Furthermore, the legal basis for the implementation of these steps was prepared. From 2014 to 2020, the "implementation phase" is to implement the plans of the previous phases and thus create a "Single European Sky". The planning until the end of 2008 is illustrated in the following graphic.

Timeline of the Single European Sky project

In 2002 the European Commission joined Eurocontrol so that the joint project “Single European Sky” can be implemented more efficiently. By then, Eurocontrol had already dealt with the issue, but had no authority to legislate or apply sanctions. In the following year these two partners signed a cooperation agreement.

The goals of the project were set to improve safety standards, increase capacity, minimize delays and create a legal framework. Traffic flows are to be optimized and better compatibility of the technical systems achieved. For this purpose, uniform air traffic controller licenses had to be introduced. Air traffic should be oriented more towards demand and not towards national borders. The areas of influence of air traffic control are to be enlarged in order to increase efficiency. In addition, military concerns should be taken into account.


Before concrete legal norms can be constructed, all those involved must agree on “rules of the game”. This includes that all parties are heard first. A committee then enters into a dialogue with business and society. This committee is composed of two representatives from each member state and one representative of the commission, who chairs it.

In order for the project to remain controllable, the Commission has to submit regular reports and Eurocontrol helps with the performance review. The Commission presented the first report in 2007 on the basis of an expert opinion prepared by Eurocontrol, the Performance Review Commission. If the timetable to be established is not adhered to or if Eurocontrol does not work satisfactorily, the Commission can take alternative measures. The Industry Consultation Body is set up to advise the Commission. The industry can thus contribute know-how and present its opinion on the schedule, cooperation and various processes. National supervisory authorities are set up in the countries and should be independent of air navigation service providers.

The ICAO makes specifications that must be taken into account in the regulations.

After these preparations had been made, a package of proposals was adopted in March 2004 which, in addition to a framework regulation for the creation of the single European sky, contains three further regulations on the provision of air navigation services, the organization and use of the airspace and the interoperability of the air traffic management network. These proposals are of a regulatory nature. This framework regulation underlines the importance of the Community's entry into Eurocontrol. Overlapping could thus be avoided and concepts coordinated. Synergy effects would be used. The single sky is to be created in accordance with the obligations arising from this membership. The requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO are also taken into account.

Common rules for the execution of these services were laid down in the “Regulation on the provision of air navigation services”. A uniform certification system is being created to ensure the quality of the services. These certificates with rights and obligations are issued by a national supervisory authority and regularly checked.

Air navigation service providers are allowed to work with certified service providers, but must notify the national supervisory authority of this. If the cooperation concerns a weather service, the Member States must be informed. If it concerns air traffic services such as flight information services, flight alarm services, air traffic advisory services, air traffic control services, district, approach or airport control services, the state is informed. The Member States are responsible for the provision of air traffic services and notify the Commission of their decisions. If a state chooses a non-certified air navigation service provider, the Commission and the Member States should also be informed. The national supervisory authorities are also assigned the task of monitoring the safety and efficiency of the air navigation service providers and carrying out inspections. You are encouraged to work together across borders. The national supervisory authorities can also designate recognized organizations and commission them with inspection tasks if the organization fulfills the requirements set out in the annex to the regulation.

Authorities are appointed by Member States for financial control. You check the billing of the service provider. Air navigation service providers submit an annual business report. The ordinance also contains regulations on the collection and use of fees that are incurred by airspace users.

The aim of the “Ordinance on the Organization and Use of Airspace” is to create a more integrated airspace and to ensure the safety and efficiency of air traffic management by establishing common procedures in terms of design, planning and administration. One of the concerns of this regulation is the creation of a single European flight information area for the upper airspace (EUIR), which includes other European states and is to be recognized by the ICAO. The boundary between the lower and upper airspace is set at 8700 meters. Cross-border control areas can be redefined through joint stipulations. The upper airspace is to be transformed into functional airspace blocks.

Two approaches were discussed for the creation of functional airspace blocks. Although the European Parliament proposed a top-down approach in which the development towards the “Single European Sky” should be coordinated centrally by the European Community, it agreed with the European Council on the bottom-up procedure. According to Article 5 of the Airspace Regulation, the EU member states are responsible for establishing functional airspace blocks. The means of political and economic support are available to them.

Various criteria apply to the formation of a functional air block. Security analyzes must be carried out, cost-benefit analyzes must be carried out, and a smooth transfer of responsibility must be guaranteed. The structures of the upper and lower airspace must be compatible with one another. Furthermore, expresses the regulation establishing of sectors in the upper airspace and the flexible use of airspace (Engl. Flexible Use of Airspace , FUA) in which the division of space is to be avoided in civil and military areas.

The “Regulation on the interoperability of the air traffic management network” aims to guarantee the compatibility of systems, components and procedures and to ensure the coordinated introduction of new technologies. All systems in operation should meet the provisions set out in the annex of the ordinance by 2011. New systems are to follow the new standards since October 2005. These provisions are stipulations in the areas of seamless operation, support for new operating concepts, security, coordination between civil and military bodies, environmental concerns, principles for the logic architecture of the systems and principles of system design.

The air navigation service providers check the systems for compliance with the requirements for interoperability and issue EC declarations of verification, which they submit to the national supervisory authority. They have the right to restrict or prohibit a system in the event of non-compliance with the regulations. If this is necessary, the Member State must send a justification to the Commission, which then, after consulting the parties involved, examines whether the prohibition or restriction is justified. If so, it will inform all Member States. If this is not the case, it asks the state concerned to take it back. A guideline will follow in April 2006, with which common standards in the training and licensing requirements for air traffic controllers will be introduced.

A further step towards standardizing the airspace was taken in May 2006 with the regulation on airspace classification for visual flights. Above flight level 195, i.e. from six kilometers, the airspace is classified as airspace class C, with the classification from A to G providing information on the control of the airspace sections. For VFR flights, i.e. flights according to visual flight rules, this regulation brings a simplification, foreign pilots can better understand the regulations.

Functional airspace blocks

Functional airspace blocks - so-called functional airspace blocks or FABs - are part of the first SES regulation. According to the objective of the European Commission, they should enable the states to work more efficiently with their neighbors and to organize the traffic flows in their respective airspace according to the needs of the airspace users free of purely national criteria.

Today there are nine FABs, which cover almost the entire European airspace as well as some airspaces in North Africa. The largest of them is the FAB European Central (FABEC). It unites the air space of Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. 55 percent of European air traffic is handled in FABEC. The coordination between the various FABs is increasingly ensured through "Inter FAB" initiatives in order to better realize the idea of ​​a seamless network.

A major advantage of the FAB structure is that it offers air traffic control authorities and their separate state supervisory bodies a platform for solving regional and international problems. This enables an increasing number of operational projects in a holistic and cooperative approach. Above all, the users of the airspace should benefit from this in the form of shorter flight routes and the citizens of the EU through reduced environmental pollution and increased flight efficiency. Structural, legal, financial and cultural differences between the individual ANSPs within the FABs pose a challenge in implementation. For example, the boundaries of the airspace blocks are based on those of the coordinated states. Nevertheless, the sectors are based on the traffic flows.  

SES in Germany

With the aim of involving Germany in the realization of the single European sky, the federal government planned the partial privatization of the German Air Traffic Control (DFS). The federal government's participation from 100 percent should be reduced to 25.1 percent. The reason for the project was given by the federal government on the assumption that an orientation by DFS would stand in the way of sovereign, i.e. purely national, requirements for the internationalization of airspace. On October 23, 2006, Federal President Horst Köhler refused to sign the legislative proposal intended to initiate privatization ; he classified the project as not in conformity with the constitution. The federal government later revised its position; DFS remained 100% publicly owned (see also here ).


In 2010, the ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano prompted the Federal Aviation Authority to close German airspace to air traffic. At the European level, however, less stringent guidelines were and are still in force; Eurocontrol and the volcanic ash center in London have a limit of 4 mg of ash per cubic meter of air. This and the eruption of the Grimsvötn volcano in Iceland in May 2011 made the public again aware that important competencies in European airspace are still fragmented.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Performance Review Report 8, Brussels, 2006, only service providers of the European Community
  2. The transit times for each service provider vary depending on the sectors to be checked from 7.2 minutes for Belgocontrol and 39.5 minutes for AENA, the operating company of the Spanish airports
  3. a b “A mid-term status report” ( memento of the original from November 20, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Status report of the European Commission, as of March 2007  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. “Overcoming national borders” ( memento of the original dated November 2, 2006 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Lufthansa article, July 2004, p. 6  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. a b cf. Graphic in "'Single European Sky' more effective than emissions trading"  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Lufthansa policy letter , December 2006@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  6. Archive link ( Memento of the original from September 29, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 997 kB)  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. German Air Traffic Control: Air Traffic in Germany - Mobility Report 2012 (PDF; 1.5 MB)
  8. EUROCONTROL: Delays to Air Transport in Europe, Annual 2012 (PDF; 1.4 MB)
  9. EUROCONTROL: Seven-Year IFR Flight Movements and Service units Forecast 2013-2019 ( Memento from September 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). 4th March 2013.
  10. Excessive costs due to fragmentation are confirmed by regular reports from the Performance Review Commission, international comparisons and independent studies.
  11. ^ "Evaluation of the Impact of the Single European Sky Initiative on ATM Performance" ( Memento of October 21, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), report of the Eurocontrol Performance Review Commission of December 16, 2006
  12. According to a performance comparison by the Performance Review Unit (ACE 2003, p. 69), only 15 out of 68 air traffic control units (ACC) achieve a value of more than one hour of flight per hour of air traffic control. However, since only the official working hours were taken into account, the actual productivity should be much higher.
  13. Regulation (EC) No. 549/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2004 laying down the framework for the creation of a single European sky
  14. Regulation (EC) No. 550/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of March 10, 2004 on the provision of air navigation services in the single European sky
  15. Regulation (EC) No. 551/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2004 on the organization and use of the airspace in the Single European Sky
  16. Regulation (EC) No. 552/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of March 10, 2004 on the interoperability of the European air traffic management network
  17. Directive 2006/23 / EC of April 5, 2006
  18. Regulation (EC) No. 730/2006 of the Commission of May 11, 2006 on the airspace classification and access of flights under visual flight rules to the airspace above flight level 195
  19. Flights under visual flight rules according to Appendix 2 of the 1944 Chicago Convention
  20. European Commission: Regulation No. 550/2004, Art. 2 (3) .
  21. ^ FABEC states go forward with common air traffic management | Eurocontrol. Retrieved December 13, 2017 .
  22. functional airspace blocks (FABs) - Mobility and Transport - European Commission. Retrieved December 13, 2017 .
  23. May 26, 2011: Ash cloud: Ramsauer wants EU limit values

Web links

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 12, 2008 .