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Mr. Moss: My hon. Friend anticipates some of the arguments that I shall deploy later in my speech. He is right. It is necessary for the single sky plan to work more closely and effectively with Eurocontrol, which it is not doing at present. The success of the proposal is predicated on that close relationship.
As we know, a target date of December 2004 has been set for implementation of the proposals. We seriously doubt whether that date is achievable. Given the fairly tight time scale, are the individual states any nearer to ceding control of national airspace than they were a few years ago? We suspect not. How much closer are we to agreement between states on the necessary standardisation of national air traffic control arrangements?
Bringing the question nearer to home, is our own NATS system compatible with those in other countries? Can it be easily and inexpensively integrated? If not, what do the Government see as the main difficulties? How will that affect the autonomy and financial viability of the NATS operation, given its parlous financial state since the Government's highly contentious part-privatisation and the events of last September?
One advantage that we do have with NATS is that we have already separated regulation from service provision. That must be an essential starting point in any new EU-wide arrangementsa requirement with which countries such as France would have great difficulty in complying, because those two functions are both still carried out by a single Government Department.
What of the opposition from air traffic controllers and their unions? We have witnessed graphic examples of such opposition in both Spain and France in recent days. Are the actions of the French unions merely a bargaining position for better pay and conditions, or are they a sign of more fundamental and deep-seated opposition to the creation of a single European sky on grounds of political dogma? Given the part-privatisation of our own NATS, are there real fears that a new pan-European air traffic control system would be ripe for private picking? The EU Commissioner, Miss Loyola de Palacio, pleads her innocence on the matter, but why are the unions still not listening?
Given that we all agree that there is a problem, what is the best way to solve it? Does it really require a new EU body to deliver the improvements that we want? Do those who are most enthusiastic about such matters insist on the single European sky project not because it will best deliver the answers that we seek, but rather because it fits into the political framework of the Single European Act and other matters integrationist?
Rationalisation is a precursor of any improvement in service delivery, but could that not be achieved through co-operation and standardisation between neighbouring countries? What about the improvements to technical programmes? It is my understanding that Eurocontrol is working on a number of programmes that, by its own estimates, if all members adopted them, could increase air traffic capacity by some 60 per cent. by 2005. Those programmes include such measures as reducing the vertical separation minimums from 2,000 ft to 1,000 ft; enhancing flow management; reducing radio frequency spacing; new modes of radar to improve ground-to-air information transmission; and free-route airspace, giving greater autonomy and control to individual pilots.
If those measures can be achieved by individual states operating autonomously, and a 60 per cent. improvement is predicted by 2005, that raises the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) posed: why do we need a new arrangement if, by improving the technical programmes, substantial improvements could be achieved in a few years?
Mr. Steen: My hon. Friend kindly mentions my comments. At present, there are navigational air transport services all over Europe catering for the aircraft that fly into their airspace. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am worried that all the measures that come to our Committee tend to be more, more, morenot necessarily better, better, better. The problem with the open sky control concept is the assumption that because it will be managed centrally, it will be better. Does my hon. Friend agree that central management is sometimes worse?
Mr. Moss: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The thrust of my argument is whether it is necessary to go down that road, when we can achieve improvements on an individual basis by appealing to nation states to improve their own air traffic control. Those who have influence in these matters may well feel that, by signing up to some over-arching EU arrangement, those who wish to dictate and prescribe will have more power to their elbow to deliver the things that they want.
I have set out a proposal whereby we increase air traffic capacity by up to 60 per cent. without the need to sign up to a centralising body that may become ever more prescriptive, ever more regulatory and ever more outside political control. The big "if" is whether there could be the level of co-operation necessary to achieve the objectives or whether they are doomed to failure because of individual states insisting on their own autonomy.
Is it an all-or-nothing scenario? If the EU cannot get agreement, does the whole project gather dust on the shelves? If unanimity is unobtainable, would there not be some merit in working with Eurocontrol to encourage the more forward-looking states to adapt some or all of their programmes? The Minister said nothing about the plan B that will be used if the EU fails to get agreement on plan A. There is an assumption that all the proposals will be signed up to in good time for December 2004, but I suspect that that might prove more difficult than he and others envisage. If that happens, what is plan B? Will he tell the House what the Government intend to do if the plans do not come to fruition?
Why is it necessary to create this new centralising body when the main problem of congestion lies in the sectors straddling from north to south the centre of the EU area? The zone embraces Italy, Spain, Switzerland I understand that it is not part of the EU, but it is inside the zoneand parts of Germany. I am told that those countries are responsible for about 44 per cent. of air traffic flow management delays and 30 per cent. of bottlenecks. Of course, Greece was once a problem in that context, but the Greeks have addressed the problems and significantly improved their air traffic control. Thus, it can be shown that if a nation state addresses the internal problems of its own air traffic control system, significant improvements can be made.
As I said, one area that still raises serious concerns is the relationship between air traffic control and defence and security policiesanother point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes. The matter was raised at some length last January in the most recent report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, which was entitled "Reducing Air Traffic Delays: Civil and Military Management of Airspace in Europe". The report was critical of certain aspects of the Commission's proposals. First, although the Commission attempted to clarify the relationship between the new European sky committee and Eurocontrol, the Committee felt that the proposals did not go "far enough". It recommended that
On civil and military issues, there is still uncertainty about how to accommodate the military. The House of Lords European Union Committee pointed out the contradiction in the Government's position. On the one hand, the Government strongly oppose the idea that military operations be brought under the first pillar of the EU, but on the other they support the concept of flexible use of airspace, which they expect to form part of the Commission's proposals under the first pillar. The Committee recommended that the Government make clear their position on that issue. Given that some, if not all, military operations could not be included in the first pillar, how do the Governmentor the Commission, for that matterpropose to resolve the serious issues that that raises? Does the Minister recognise a need for institutional arrangements outside the first pillar to provide a forum for civil/military liaison, a framework in which sensitive military issues affecting air traffic management can be raised and a way of involving states outside the EU?
The Minister mentioned Gibraltar. I understand that the agreement between the UK and Spain allowed the European single sky proposals to be launched last year, but does it also allow the EU's accession to Eurocontrol to go ahead? The Minister looks puzzled. What I am getting at is that we have got the agreement to proceed with the single European sky proposals, but does that mean that we can also easily move into an accession to Eurocontrol?