From: Slobodan Lekic, Associated Press
Published July 6, 2007 12:00 AM

EU Experts Urges Faster Implementation of Single European Sky Concept

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A group of EU experts on Friday urged the union to speed up efforts to create a unified airspace over Europe in order to cut air travel costs, boost safety and improve the environmental efficiency of air traffic over the continent.

The High Level Group -- an advisory body set up last year by the European Commission -- said in a report the main aim of the plan was to strengthen performance across Europe's aviation system.

"At present, performance is impeded by fragmentation across borders and across component parts of the aviation system," said the document which will serve as the basis for a new push to speed up the Single European Sky plan.

Despite numerous efforts to integrate air traffic management systems, Europe is still broken up into small slices of airspace controlled by national governments, which for political reasons have traditionally been keen to retain control over flights. This has contributed to making air travel over Europe 70 percent less cost efficient than in the United States.

The Single European Sky concept was introduced in 2004 to ensure greater aviation efficiency and improved environmental performance by eliminating the need for airliners to zigzag through 27 different national air spaces. Instead, the goal is to enable direct point-to-point travel with the help of a single, integrated air traffic control system.

Jacqueline Tammenons Bakker, chairwoman of the High Level Group, said continuing fragmentation placed an unnecessary financial burden on airlines and passengers amounting to euro3.3 billion ($US4.4 billion) annually. It also contributed to increased air pollution and jeopardized air safety by creating unnecessary bottlenecks in the air.

"The objective of the Single European Sky is for planes flying from A to B get there in the most efficient way," she said. "Why has it not progressed as much as necessary? It's because air traffic navigation is still very much a national issue and what we propose to do in our recommendations is to give the commission advice on how it can break through that constraint."

The group's 10 recommendations include granting greater powers to Eurocontrol, Europe's air navigation agency; giving more responsibility to airlines and airports to come up with market oriented solutions; and transforming the nascent European Aviation Safety Agency into a general regulatory body along the lines of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

"Our believe is that by having new economic regulation that encourages individual air navigation service providers to work together to reduce costs, that would help," Tammenons Bakker said.

"We also see no reasons why sovereignty considerations which should impede cross border cooperation between air traffic management organizations."

Source: Associated Press

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