The Single European Sky, the solution to air fragmentation

• The aim of the Single European Sky is to restructure the air navigation management system in Europe, promoting its evolution towards a more efficient air transport system. In addition, the creation of a Single European Sky will maintain European air leadership, which has been severely damaged by the pandemic.

May, 26th, 2021.

Jorge Santamaría – Sepla Technical Department

The Single European Sky was born out of the need to coordinate the airspace of the different countries that make up the European Union. The Single European Sky is an attempt to avoid the fragmentation that leads to inefficiencies in the system, which are difficult to assume with the challenges we are facing currently in the air sector. This need for coordination gave rise to different regulatory packages. The first of these was SES 1, in 2004, which has been updated with different attempts: SES2 (2009), SES2+ (2013), SES2+ wise men panel (2019), and the latest revision of the regulatory package on 22nd, September 2020. Although there has been progresses, they have not been sufficient, and this has led to criticism from international institutions such as IFATCA (controllers), IATA (airlines), etc.

The problem is clear. Even if the sector is very efficient and has the latest technology, as well as very well-trained controllers, if the adjacent sector does not have that capacity, bottlenecks will form that will reduce the total capacity.

In 2019, losses of EUR 6 billion were generated due to the accumulation of these delays, which also impacted on airport operations. But not only does this inefficiency result in delays, but also in sub-optimal routes, with 10% more fuel consumption and 11.6 million tonnes of excess CO2 emissions. These difficulties will be worsened by the lack of investment in new technologies and digitalisation in control centres, which will not only have to be prepared for a sudden increase in traffic, but will also have to adapt to new users (Drones, Urban Air Mobility, etc.).


EUROCONTROL itself carried out a study (2006-2016) comparing EU and US airspace, as can be seen in the following two graphs:

For all these reasons, Sepla proposes two solutions which, although they are not new, should be adopted as soon as possible, at least one and in a decisive manner. After the pandemic, the aviation sector in Europe needs support and urgent and real solutions.

1. The first, and most ambitious, is the unification into a single provider of cross-border services. This would be the continuation of the initial EUROCONTROL project together with the delegation of the service, as is the case in the Maastricht (MUAC) sectors. At the operational level it would be the most effective, and at the technical level the standardisation would be absolute and would facilitate the development of new technologies.

2. The second is based on the development of functional airspace blocks (FAB), avoiding borders as much as possible and focusing on flows. It is worth highlighting the coordination with a strong figure, dependent on EUROCONTROL: NETWORK MANAGER. This system will oversee receiving the capacity of the sectors from each service provider and adjusting, with a margin, the traffic flows. This generated some problems in the past, as there were some sectors that could not take up the predicted capacity, thus producing delays from the origin airport and impacting the rest of the network.

The different technological and digital development pace of the ANSP (Air Navigation Providers) also influences the different capacities, even to the point of operating with systems that present compatibility problems.

The financial problem after the pandemic has left the different ANSP in a critical situation, which probably will need to be bailout. The response to this problem ranges from privatisation (IATA is its strongest advocate), to the creation of a purely European infrastructure, financed by European funds, where payment would be made for the provided service, as is the case in the railway system.

Today, the office in charge of collecting and distributing charges is the CROC (Central Route Charges Office), which reports to EUROCONTROL.

This office makes traffic forecasts for the following year based on previous years, distributing the total costs between the number of traffics met, depending on the weight and distance travelled.


Because forecasts during the pandemic were not able to anticipate this gap, air traffic management has generated a tremendous deficit, which airlines will have to bear for the next 10 years and which will, of course, be passed on in ticket prices.

As we have seen during the pandemic, in a globalised world it is increasingly difficult to provide answers at regional or national level to challenges that cross borders. This is particularly evident in the airline industry.

In short, if we want Europe to continue to maintain global leadership, we should be more generous in building a common space and move forward in this integration which, on the other hand, we consider to be the only possible solution.


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