At the recent Aviation Festival, of course, one of the big topics was sustainability. During these discussions, the Single European Sky (SES) initiative was mentioned as something that could help airlines become more sustainable.

So, what is Single European Sky and how can it help improve air travel?

Reforming the European Air Traffic Management System

The Single European Sky is a European Commission initiative that seeks to reform the European air traffic management system through a series of actions with the aim of satisfying the needs of the European airspace in terms of capacity, safety, efficiency and environmental impact.

As it currently stands, the European Union airspace is significantly fragmented and congested as air traffic is managed by individual member countries, although they do cooperate through EUROCONTROL.

This causes a number of issues which make route planning less efficient, create more costs, cause more delays and producer greater emissions.

"On average, aircraft fly 49 kilometer longer than necessary."

Examples of current issues:

  • Using national borders in the sky.
  • Having large areas of airspace strictly reserved for national military (which usually aren't needed/used).

This can lead to situations, for example, where airplanes are often forced to needlessly burn fuel by circling the sky or taking non-sensical paths. On average, aircraft fly 49 kilometer longer than necessary.

The aim of the Single European Sky is to safely increase the efficiency of air traffic management and air navigation services by reducing the fragmentation of European airspace.

What are the Potential Benefits of Single European Sky?

The original vision of SES was to achieve the following goals by 2020:

  • An improvement in safety performance by a factor of 10.
  • A 10% reduction in the effect flights have on the environment.
  • A reduction in the cost of ATM (air traffic management) services to airspace users by at least 50%.
  • A three-fold increase in capacity where needed.

According to IATA, successful airspace modernization and meeting cost reduction and capacity improvements could result in an extra 245 billion EUR in European GDP and an additional 1 million jobs a year from 2035.

So beyond the environmental impact, there is a significant economic windfall to be achieved.

"Why isn't [Single European Sky] being done? Because of a lack of political will to do it."

Unfortunately, to this point, progress has been slow. The Single European Sky initiative was launched in 1999, but has gained little traction.

Political issues around airspace sovereignty and the willingness of national air navigation service providers to reform have kept SES on the drawing board.

During a CEO panel at the World Aviation Festival, Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA, said, "You could reduce CO2 in Europe by 10 to 12 percent through Single European Sky, and it could be done overnight. You don't need any investment in technology. We have the technology already in the aircraft to fly the most efficient routes."

Walsh continued by urging governments to do more.

"Why isn't [Single European Sky] being done? Because of a lack of political will to do it. So are governments do enough? No, they are not! We need to call them out because we get lectured by politicians about how important it is for the industry to improve, but they need to look at what they can do."