The ETF welcomes the Council position on the reform of the Single European Sky. The 27 EU Member States today unanimously endorsed the modified text of the Air Traffic Management (ATM) reform prepared by the Portuguese Presidency.

While the Member States made it clear they support the overall objective of the proposed reform – to improve the European ATM system – they reject some of the measures proposed by the Commission as they deem them unjustified and lacking a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, a concern the ETF have been raising ever since the Commission SES2+ recast proposal was introduced in September 2020. The Portuguese Presidency has come up with a compromised text reflecting some of these concerns.

National sovereignty takes precedence

The ETF welcomes the following changes introduced by the Members States to the Commission’s initial SES2+ proposal. In particular, the ETF is pleased the Member States and the Portuguese Presidency do not give in to the various pressures and keep in mind the ATM is a critical infrastructure whose purpose is to serve all citizens and travelling public while ensuring safety at all times.

The Member States stressed that the provision of ATM service is a matter of national sovereignty, a principle that needs to be respected and maintained. (Needless to mention, recent events have shown the importance and vast consequences of having control over one’s national airspace.) The ETF supports the notion that the Member States remain responsible for the provision of ATM service, in particular having the choice of how they structure and organise their ATM services as well as other parts of the ATM industry that are indispensable for safe air transport operations.

Safety first

Likewise, Member States agreed it should be up to each of them to decide whether economic oversight and safety oversight should form part of the same administrative entity or not. Furthermore, on the EU level, the Council said the Performance Review Body should keep its advisory role while not being within the structures of EASA. The ETF has previously raised concerns over the mechanism foreseen in the Commission proposal for the approval of the performance plans, that leave all local and national expertise out of the loop. The ETF fully supports that the PRB should remain an advisory body separated from EASA.

“The position adopted by the Council today shows that Member States, contrary to the Commission, do understand the purpose of the Air Traffic Management (ATM) sector, which is to provide safety, not maximise profits,” said Charles-André Quesnel, ETF ATM Committee Chair. “There is hope that the ATM sector will not be further damaged, which is what was effectively going to happen if the Commission’s proposal remained unchanged,” he added.

“The Council made it clear today that ATM is a human-centred industry, not a perpetuum mobile, which is what the Commission seems to think. You can’t be reducing costs over and over again and expect it will make your ATM system better, safer, more sustainable and more resilient. Today’s Council shows there is a clear consensus across the EU Member States that Europe needs to rethink its ATM model to reflect current situations and current needs – of the workers, the environment and society at large,” he explained.

When it comes to assessing overall ATM performance, safety and environmental considerations should have priority over other considerations, the Council has said. The ETF welcomes this stance and it has always been pointing out the purpose of ATM service is first and foremost to provide a safe public service to the benefit of citizens as well as that of the overflown population. While an ETF analysis shows the initial Commission’s SES2+ proposal is limited to greenwashing rather than introducing real solutions towards a “greener” aviation, an analysis that was reiterated today by some of the Member States, the ETF support the Council’s efforts to make the aviation sector more sustainable.

Maximising profitability is not the way forward

Regarding sustainability objectives, both environmental and social sustainability concerns were raised by the Council. Some Member States criticised the initial Commission’s proposal which they say does not reflect the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and as other crises that have occurred in recent years, heavily impacting the ATM sector. Instead, it wrongly prioritises economic considerations over others, something the Council text is trying to fix now. Concerns were raised about the consequences of an ATM system, which, if designs incorrectly, makes the workers, the environment and the citizens pay the price, in economical, social and environmental terms.

Finally, the Council’s position maintains functional airspace blocks (FABs) as a basis for enhanced cooperation and coordination across national borders. Indeed, it is the ETF view that FABs have, in some cases, brought increased cooperation between States and ANSPs which has delivered limited but increased performance.

It is regrettable that in today’s Council meeting, the Commission once again showed a lack of understanding of basic ATM principles. While the Commission expressed its full reservation to Council’s position, the general approach adopted in unison by the EU Member States shows once again the importance and justifiability of the many concerns ATM workers’ have raised on multiple occasions in relation to the initial SES2+ recast proposal.