Ninth Report of Session 2013-14 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

5   Single European Sky




COM(13) 408




COM(13) 409




+ ADDs 1-2

COM(13) 410

Commission Communication: Accelerating the implementation of the Single European Sky

Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008 in the field of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services

Draft Regulation on the implementation of the Single European Sky (recast)

Legal base(a) —

(b)-(c) Article 100(2) TFEU; co-decision; QMV

Documents originated11 June 2013
Deposited in Parliament21 June 2013
Basis of considerationEM of 3 July 2013
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in CouncilNot known
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


5.1  The Single European Sky (SES) initiative was launched in response to the growing problem in air traffic management (ATM) delays in the late 1990s. The principal objective of the SES is to deliver a seamless, safe, sustainable, efficient and interoperable European ATM system capable of meeting future capacity needs and not artificially constrained by national borders.

5.2  The legislative basis for the SES was established in April 2004 with the entry into force of four high-level Regulations,[13] now termed "SES I". These Regulations were amended by Regulation (EC) 1070/2009 to introduce a performance scheme and network management function and to accelerate the formation of cross-border "functional airspace blocks" (FABs) involving two or more states collaborating to improve operational efficiency in their combined airspace. These amendments were part of the SES second package (SES II) aimed at expediting the delivery of SESAR (SES ATM Research), which is the technological/industrial complement to the SES and crucial to its realisation.[14]

5.3  The SES Framework Regulation requires the Commission to review the application of the SES legislation and report periodically to the Council and the European Parliament on progress in the light of the original objectives and with a view to future needs.

5.4  The EU aviation safety regulatory system is a partnership between a number of authorities — the Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the Member States and their national aviation authorities (CAA in the UK) and affected stakeholders. The EASA's primary objective is to establish and maintain a high and uniform level of civil aviation safety in the EU covering its areas of competence, that is airworthiness, personnel licensing, aircraft operations, safety of third country aircraft, aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services.

The documents

5.5  In its Communication, document (a), the Commission rehearses the justification for, and the history of, the SES. It asserts that:

"The implementation of the SES and associated reform of the European ATM system must be accelerated, helping our airspace users in a tough global competitive environment, and facilitating future economic growth. So the Commission, building on the experience of the SES so far, is proposing a carefully targeted further legislative proposal to facilitate early implementation of the SES, a legislative package consisting of the recast of the four regulations creating the Single European Sky and the amendment of the regulation establishing the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)."

5.6  The Commission discusses various aspects of the two Regulations it proposes. It also discusses the changing role of Eurocontrol (European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation)[15] and notes that:

"The provisional governing bodies of Eurocontrol have started the discussion on the reform of the organisation in May 2013. The Commission intends to contribute to this discussion by co-ordinating the position of Member States to ensure a swift revision of the Eurocontrol Convention starting from 2014 and focusing Eurocontrol on operational tasks in which it has greatest expertise."

5.7  The key aspects of the draft Regulation to recast (consolidate and amend) the four SES I Regulations, document (c), which the Commission terms "SES II+", are:

  • extending the application of the SES to airspace outside Europe, in the ICAO NAT (International Civil Aviation Organisation North Atlantic) region where the UK and Ireland are jointly responsible for air traffic services;
  • a requirement for National Supervisory Authorities (the CAA for the UK) to be legally distinct and independent from air navigation service providers by 2020, which follows the model the UK has already implemented with the CAA and NATS (the UK's air traffic control service);
  • a requirement for National Supervisory Authorities to take part in an undefined collaborative network to pool and share resources, knowledge and best practice supported by the Commission and EASA. There is a similar new provision in the amending EASA Regulation, document (b);
  • an existing requirement on Member States to consult stakeholders, which in the UK is currently exercised by DfT, would in future fall on National Supervisory Authorities;
  • the concept of support services as non-core air navigation services[16] is proposed, with requirements for core and non-core air navigation services to be delivered through separate undertakings by 2020 — the objective being to allow a contestable market for non-core services;
  • a number of non-core air navigation services currently being delivered at Member State or FAB level would be delivered centrally at EU level, with the Commission given power to expand the number of centralised services by way of delegated acts;
  • amendments to the SES Performance Scheme with the objective of speeding up decision making. Member State involvement in target setting at EU level would be reduced and mechanisms for enforcement of EU targets strengthened;
  • requirements for the SESAR programme, including some aspects from the recently agreed Implementing Regulation for SESAR Common Projects and making clear the comitology role. A new article is included giving the Commission the power to propose Implementing Regulations and other relevant measures to promote technological development and interoperability for air traffic management, with regulatory material being developed through EASA processes;
  • the obligation to form FABs would remain with Member States (the UK has formed one with Ireland). The new proposals are based on integrated provision of services and a requirement to ensure they are designed to seek maximum synergies to meet and exceed performance targets. There is also provision for the Commission to develop detailed rules for FABs rather than just guidance material as now;
  • Eurocontrol currently performs the "Network Manager" role for the EU air traffic management network. The Network Manager would be given additional functions relating to centralised services. It is envisaged that the role of Network Manager will be removed from Eurocontrol and designated as a self-standing service provider on the basis of an industrial partnership by 2020; and
  • a new requirement for air navigation service providers to consult with airspace users on all major issues related to the services provided, with power for the Commission to produce Implementing Regulations in this area.

5.8  The key aspects of the EASA draft amending Regulation, document (b), are:

  • moving some elements of SES legislation into the EASA Regulation to make the legislative framework simpler and more consistent;
  • changes in the naming and governance of the EASA in line with an inter-institutional agreement covering all EU Agencies — the new name would be the "European Union Agency for Aviation";
  • development and adoption of new technical rules (on aircrew, operations, aerodromes and air traffic management and air navigation services) would be under Delegated Acts, with the Commission obliged to consult an expert committee;
  • a number of changes have been introduced in relation to applicability to the military bringing the EASA into line with how SES addresses the military;
  • transfer of the safety aspects of the SES Regulations into the EASA system including interoperability and flexible use of airspace concepts; and
  • changes to the governance of the EASA, including creation of an Executive Board, as a sub-group of the Management Board.

The Government's view

5.9  The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns) comments first that the Government considers that the proposals are justified in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, saying that the required improvements in safety, capacity, environmental performance and cost efficiency across the EU air traffic management network could not be delivered by Member States acting alone.

5.10  Turning to the policy implications the Minister says that:

  • successive Governments have supported the SES project and the present Government intends to continue this support;
  • the SES is already delivering operational efficiency benefits to airspace users and passengers, in the form of reduced air navigation charges, more direct flight routings and reduced fuel burn; and
  • similarly, successive Governments have supported the EASA, which aims to deliver a high and uniform level of civil aviation safety across the EU, to ensure that regulatory proposals for aviation safety under the auspices of the present EASA Regulation are effective and proportionate.

5.11  The Minister continues that:

  • the Government welcomes the intention to rationalise the four SES Regulations into one and transfer the safety aspects of the SES into the EASA regulatory framework; but
  • there could be potential consequences, both intended and unintended, and it is still considering its views on the detail of the proposals.

5.12  On the key aspects of the SES II+ proposals that the Government is still considering and may seek to influence during negotiations are as follows, the Minister says first that:

  • the Government will seek legal clarity concerning the application of the regulations to the airspace of the ICAO NAT (North Atlantic) Region and whether EU competence can extend to those regions — responsibility for managing Flight Information Regions is established through the international agreement of ICAO contracting States; and
  • the Government needs, in any case, to make an assessment of the benefits of applying the SES rules to this airspace, which is very different from the core of Europe.

5.13  With regard to National Supervisory Authorities the Minister says that:

  • the UK CAA model is expected to be compliant with the proposed SES Regulation and is often held up as an example of best practice; but
  • the Government will seek clarity on the requirements and best means to support the delivery and exchange of information and cooperation between national supervisory authorities.

5.14  The Minister says that the Government supports the principles of a contestable market to provide best value for money to users and the travelling public. He adds that it considers, however that that core services, impacting on safety, should have the direct involvement of air navigation service providers and therefore boundaries between core and non-core services need to be clearly defined. He says that the Government supports some centralisation of services, especially in relation to new SESAR technologies (which no service providers are currently using), to achieve greater synergies where there is a positive cost benefit analysis.

5.15  The Minister tells us that, although the Communication and the Commission's impact assessment on the SESII+ Regulation refer to these proposals in part as a strategic re-positioning of FABs, there is actually little that is new here. He says that:

  • the proposals appear to mix regulatory requirements and an industry-led approach, though it is not clear how responsibility and accountability will be established for an industry-led approach; and
  • whilst supporting a strategic redirection of FABs towards service provision led co-operative entities, which aligns with the approach already taken by the UK and Ireland, there is also need to rationalise the regulatory requirements to ensure the Regulation does not restrict a service-led approach.

5.16  In relation to the Network Manager the Minister says that:

  • its designation as a self-standing service provider needs to ensure that the separation of regulation and service provision is fully accounted for;
  • once these concerns are resolved the Government could support the creation of an industrial partnership, but would seek a stronger Member State role in the governance, in order to discharge State responsibilities to the ICAO; and
  • likewise the Government could support a model where the Network Manager works with service providers to identify where airspace design could be improved, but would need to resist top down direction on the detail of any design that could potentially conflict with national requirements.

5.17  The Minister notes that both the draft Regulations:

  • contain powers for the Commission to use Delegated Acts, especially where the Commission is trying to speed up or streamline processes; and
  • in each case, the Commission's power to make Delegated Acts is expressed for an indeterminate period, but subject to revocation by the European Parliament or Council.

5.18  He comments that:

  • the balance between the use of Delegated Acts, rather than Implementing Acts, with additional committee oversight through the examination procedure is a fine one;
  • the Government proposes to consult stakeholders before reaching a firm view on whether Delegated Acts can be justified for some elements of these measures, (probably those which most technical in nature);
  • but it will reserve the right to press for the examination procedure in other instances; and
  • it would expect many of the other Member States to share this view.

5.19  Turning to key matters specific to the draft EASA Regulation, document (b), the Minister says that:

  • although the SES II + proposal still includes the statement from the current Regulations that "Decisions relating to the content, scope or carrying out of military operations and training do not fall within the sphere of competence of the Union under Article 100(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union" some technical changes in definitions in the proposed amendment to the EASA Regulation have given rise to uncertainty in application;
  • whilst the Government does not believe this is intended the issue will need to be addressed;
  • where SES tools are to be transferred to the EASA system the text covering them is significantly shorter, so there will need to be an evaluation by technical experts to consider any consequences and to ensure these are addressed;
  • there is a difference between the existing SES Regulations with a scope covering 'Air Traffic Management' and the EASA Regulations covering 'Air Traffic Management and Air Navigation Services';
  • in transferring elements of the SES Regulations to the EASA, this potentially opens them up to a wider scope with unintended consequence which will have to be investigated by technical experts and fully understood; and
  • the changes proposed to the EASA governance will also need careful consideration for any positive or negative impacts, particularly with respect to ensuring that the UK can continue to maintain its strong influence in both technical and policy matters.

5.20  The Minister says that precise details on any financial implications will only become clear as the package develops in negotiations. He comments that, although the proposals are aimed at speeding up the delivery of the SES and of themselves should not introduce significant additional financial burdens, precise details on any financial implications will only become clear as Regulations are developed and more fully understood.

5.21  On consultations the Minister tells us that:

  • primary and secondary SES legislation is discussed within the Department for Transport's European Airspace Policy Committee (EAPC), which includes representatives from the Ministry of Defence, the CAA and NATS, as the licensed en route air navigation service provider in the UK;
  • the Department achieves wider stakeholder consultation through its European Air Traffic Management Stakeholder Forum, which includes representatives from airlines, the military, service providers, regulators and general aviation;
  • these legislative proposals have been circulated to both groups;
  • the EAPC will first meet for formal discussion on 18 July and the Stakeholder Forum will discuss the proposals on 4 September;
  • in addition, the Department's EASA industry forum, involving CAA, NATS and UK industry, will discuss the proposals at its next meeting on 13 September; and
  • a small round table discussion of key stakeholders is also being planned.

5.22  The Minister continues that, although no formal national consultation has been conducted on SESII+, views on the SES to date are well known and as the new proposals do not intend to make any fundamental changes, the Government expects views to be broadly similar to those already expressed, which are:

  • the users, mainly airlines, want to see the drive to achieve savings accelerated, but recognise this must not be at the expense of service quality (safety and capacity);
  • the air navigation service providers, primarily NATS, feel the full force of the Performance Scheme and need to balance the requirement to achieve targets for safety, environment, capacity and cost efficiency with delivering a return to shareholders;
  • the unions representing air traffic controllers and support staff in the air traffic management industry are opposed to elements of the SES because they recognise the drive for efficiency improvements will ultimately mean fewer jobs; and
  • under the current SES legislation, NATS have announced a voluntary redundancy programme as part of its planning in preparation for meeting performance targets for 2015.

5.23  As for an impact assessment the Minister says that:

  • the SESII+ and EASA proposals together are a recast and rationalisation of existing Regulations and are not anticipated to lead to significant additional impacts on the UK;
  • the rationalisation is intended to make the legislative and regulatory framework less complex, delivering safety, capacity, environment and cost savings more swiftly than would otherwise be the case; but
  • further work is needed in a number of areas to better understand the technical detail and, if it becomes clear there is the likelihood of significant impact on the UK, an Impact Assessment Checklist will be completed.


5.24  We recognise the value of the developing Single European Sky system in providing better, more effective and reliable conditions for air travel across EU airspace and note the Government's nuanced support for the present proposals.

5.25  We are grateful to the Minister for his assessment of the proposals, albeit necessarily preliminary and tentative. However, we will only consider the proposals further when we have accounts in due course of developments on the matters the Minister has drawn to our attention, that is the ICAO NAT Region, National Supervisory Authorities, definition of core and non-core services, centralisation of services, FABs, the Network Manager, the balance between Delegated Acts and Implementing Acts, the EASA and the military, shortening of text on SES tools, scope in relation to Air Traffic Management' and 'Air Traffic Management and Air Navigation Services', EASA governance and any issues arising from the consultations and further consideration of the financial implications and the impacts of the proposals.

5.26  Meanwhile the documents remain under scrutiny.

13   Regulation (EC) No. 549/2004 laying down the framework for the creation of the Single European Sky. Regulation (EC), No. 550/2004 on the provision of air navigation services in the Single European Sky, Regulation (EC) No. 551/2004 on the organisation and use of the airspace in the Single European Sky and Regulation (EC) No. 552/2004 on the interoperability of the European air traffic management network. Back

14   For SESAR see Back

15   For EUROCONTROL see Back

16   The proposal refers to "the provision of communication, navigation and surveillance services, as well as meteorological and aeronautical information services". Back

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Prepared 18 July 2013