6 December 2010

Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland have committed to jointly manage their airspace in a drive to shorten flights, reduce kerosene consumption and pollute less.

 The six countries signed a treaty on 2 December 2010 establishing a Functional Airspace Block: Europe Central (FABEC), which was hailed as a major step towards the establishment of a Single European Sky. At the heart of Europe, FABEC countries currently handle over half (55%) of all flights in Europe and cover the most complex traffic areas between the busiest airports.

 The initiative aims to organise air traffic management irrespective of national borders to improve air traffic control in terms of safety, environmental sustainability, capacity, cost-efficiency, flight efficiency and military mission effectiveness. The move comes after a major aviation crisis in April and May 2010 when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted restricting air traffic movements in many parts of Europe.

 A FABEC Council composed of civilian and military representatives will be set up to govern harmonisation of rules and procedures, provision of air navigation services, civil-military cooperation, charging, supervision and performance. Based on its decisions, the contracting states will establish the necessary national rules and procedures. The six countries have already started to study the institutional and legal set-up of the venture and strive to have completed negotiations on this by July 2011.

 Currently, the European sky remains broadly divided into 27 different pieces of airspace under the control of national Governments. This fragmentation forces airlines to zig-zag between the 27 different airspace sectors – each serviced by a different air navigation service provider. Airlines are thus flying longer routes than necessary, increasing emissions and costs for operators.

 The EU Single European Sky (SES) initiative was launched in 1999 to create a more efficient, better performing and more environmentally friendly single European air navigation system, in which a maximum level of security is maintained. In the framework of the SES, EU Member States have committed to establishing cross-border cooperation among themselves through Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs). Nine European FABs have so far been designed.

 The FABEC agreement represents the third functional airspace block, after the UK–Ireland FAB and the Denmark–Sweden FAB. Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, said he hopes the FABEC signature will be “an inspiration for the other Member States in their efforts to have all the functional airspace blocks in place by the deadline of 4 December 2012.”

 Six more FABs remain under negotiation and are expected to be signed between other EU Member States and some associated third countries. An example includes the Blue Med Mediterranean FAB, which will gather Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta, along with associates Tunisia, Egypt and Albania, as well as Jordan and Lebanon as observers. Mr Kallas also noted that the FABs will be instrumental in satisfying the growing capacity requirements of all airspace users with a minimum of delays by managing air traffic more dynamically.