Single European Sky: Member States fail to reach key deadline to achieve more efficient European airspace

Brussels, 5-12-2012 — / — Many Member States are seriously lagging behind and not yet fully compliant with requirements to make nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) fully operational, for the deadline of 4 December 2012. A critical deadline has been missed for FABs, the regional airspace blocks which are a key element for the ambitious plans to create a single European airspace – tripling European airspace capacity and halving air traffic control costs. The Commission warned today that it will launch infringement procedures against Member States for all the Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) which are not yet fully compliant with all legal requirements. It will also present a new package of legislative measures in Spring 2013 to accelerate reforms and ensure the full delivery of a Single European Sky.

Inefficiencies caused by Europe’s fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to €5 billion each year. It adds 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight, forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user-charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.

Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: “We will take every possible action to make the Single European Sky a reality. The costs of congestion and delays in the air are paid for on a daily basis by European citizens and business when the fly. Add to that the cost to the economy in lost efficiency and the environmental price we pay and it is clear that the Single European Sky is too important to be allowed to fail. At a time of economic crisis we cannot afford to live with the status quo. Right now the implementation of the reform of Europe’s airspace is falling seriously behind. FABs are the cornerstone of the Single European Sky infrastructure and a critical deadline has been missed. There is no other option but to strongly enforce EU law.”

2012 is a critical year for the Single European Sky (SES), with four key deliverables including nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to be operational by December 2012

According to EU legislation, Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) had to be implemented by 4 December 2012. A total of 9 FABs covering the whole EU plus 4 more States (Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Norway, Switzerland) have been established, which represents significant progress. On the other hand, these FABs are not yet genuinely “functional” as they still follow national borders or have not yet optimised their air navigation services, or both. The main cause of this shortcoming has been a protracted focus on finalising institutional issues rather than on identifying and actioning operational improvements and undue protection of national interests.


The Single European Sky (SES) is a flagship European initiative to reform the architecture of European air traffic control, to meet future capacity and safety needs. Building on initiatives in the late 1990s, the Single Sky I (SES I) package was adopted in 2004, the Single Sky II Package (SES II) was adopted in 2009.

With full implementation of the SES:

  • Safety will be improved by a factor of ten;
  • Airspace capacity will be tripled;
  • The costs of air traffic management will be reduced by 50%;
  • The impact on the environment will be reduced by 10%.

Why we need fully functional FABs

The market opening of the EU’s aviation market in 1993 made travel much more accessible and affordable and has stimulated growth in air services. Since then, traffic has increased by 54%.

The constraints on airspace capacity in Europe have resulted in more delays. Delay is not only due to a shortage of capacity; it is also caused by the fact that air traffic control in Europe is fragmented and inefficient. Airspace is currently structured around national boundaries and so flights are often unable to take direct routes – which would save fuel, reduce costs and be better for the environment.

To make a comparison, in an airspace which is roughly the same size, Europe has more than 30 en-route air navigation service providers and the USA has just one; the USA serves twice as many flights as Europe with the same costs.

A FAB is a part of the sky where national borders have been removed. It can be thought of as a single airspace, just as the single market in the EU allows EU citizens to travel, live and work freely anywhere in the EU. By enabling aircraft to fly without dealing with border crossings, and thus also less efficient national arrangements, FABs will enhance safety. By enabling aircraft to fly straighter lines at better altitudes, FABs will save fuel and reduce delays. By unifying Europe’s sky and consolidating its services, FABs will reduce the environmental impact of aviation and reduce the cost of flying to the tune of billions of euros annually.

Next Steps

The European Commission will proceed shortly by sending letters of formal notice to all parties concerned

For more information: MEMO/12/934IP/12/1089SPEECH/12/711

Contacts :

Helen Kearns (+32 2 298 76 38)

Dale Kidd (+32 2 295 74 61)


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