Beyond Air Transportation: The Single European Sky Project


It’s not uncommon for today’s business men to visit several countries in the span of 24 hours. Or for customers to receive an intercontinental shipment at home, the very next day after it has been ordered. The Air Freight Forwarding Industry has soared in the last decade (along with international freight forwarding), with global revenue increasing from $322 in 2003 to $547 billion in 2010.

The European Airspace

According to the European Association for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL), in 2011, there were on average 27,000 flights per day in Europe. This number is expected to double by 2020. Did you know that EU airspace is controlled by 38 national air navigation organizations? Because of the extreme fragmentation of European airspace, aircraft must deviate from their most direct route, causing delays and burning fuel unnecessarily. For instance, in 2010, 450 million extra kilometers were flown because of indirect routes, for an estimated cost of €2.4 billion! The Single European Sky (SES) project is a major step forward in improving this situation.

A Unified Sky in Europe

The project originated in 1999, when the European Commission proposed the idea of a common air traffic management system and a unified sky in Europe. A first set of proposals was voted on in 2004 (SES I), leading to the creation of nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs). This corresponded with the merger of several national airspaces into larger areas, so as to decrease the fragmentation factor. Within an FAB, the flow of aircraft and their corresponding air navigation services are integrated and controlled based on operational requirements, rather than countries’ borders. For example, the Netherlands now belong to the FABEC block, along with France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Before, each time a plane entered a nation’s airspace, it had to be attended by a different airspace navigation service provider (ANSP), with limited coordination between providers, their control systems as well as civil and military airspace users. A second package of measures, targeting the system’s performance, was adopted in 2009 (SES II). All in all, the legislative framework is ready after ten years of debate, and its tangible implementation is forthcoming. The objective is to be fully operational by 2020, when cost and time savings will be most visible.

Reduced costs and improved transit times

The primary objective of SES is to re-organize the European airspace so as to meet future capacity and safety needs, as we see air traffic constantly increasing as well safety risk. By reducing transport time and offering more direct routes, the air traffic management system would enable airlines to save billions of Euros. An estimate indicates savings of 50% compared to the current situation, once fully implemented. Consequently, freight forwarding service providers and passengers should benefit from reduced costs and improved transit times. In fact, the final benefit goes to all supply chains where the speed of logistics services is a key requirement. Companies heavily dependent on express freight forwarding services might pay less in the future, when compared to current rates. Last but not least, savings on fuel consumption is more than welcome in a more-and-more environmentally conscious society.

To conclude, the Single European Sky is now entering the implementation phase after a decade working on its legislative package. Cost savings, transit time reductions, enhanced safety and reduced pollution are the main benefits of SES. In addition, a similar initiative is taking place in Asia under the name “Seamless Asian Skies”.


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