The Single European Sky

In the late 1990s, among other initiatives, Europe decided to promote the creation of the single aviation market and the Single European Sky initiative.

The “Single European Sky” initiative aims primarily at reducing the fragmentation of European airspace, thereby increasing its capacity and the efficiency of air traffic management and air navigation services by reducing flight times, reducing flight costs and aircraft emissions, separating regulatory functions and service provision, interoperability of equipment, harmonised upper airspace classification and establishing common requirements for the licensing of air traffic controllers.

Until the late 1990s, air transport was carried out under the supervision and control of the national authorities of each country, and international air transport was mainly based on bilateral agreements between countries.

The evolution in Europe came with the signing of the “Single European Act” when national markets became a single competitive market for air transport. At that time, national airlines gave way to Community airlines and it was established as a basic principle that any Community airline could freely set fares for passengers and cargo, as well as access any route within the European Union, without any express permission or authorisation.

Both the European Parliament and the European Council have been key in this context. Indeed, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union recognises in article 100.2 the ability of the European Parliament and Council to lay down such provisions as they deem appropriate in relation to aviation.

In the field of the common conditions of competition, some of the common rules adopted to ensure the proper functioning of the European aviation system would be:

  1. The proposal for a Regulation on safeguarding competition in air transport and repealing Regulation (EC) No 868/2004 was published in June 2017.
  2. Regulation (EEC) No 95/93 and its amendments.
  3. Directive 96/67/EC.
  4. Directive 2009/12/EC.
  5. COM (2017) 0289, mechanism to ensure fair competition between Union air carriers and third countries.

In the area of passenger protection, the steps taken and to be assessed are:

  1. Creation of a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
  2. The harmonisation of security requirements in all European Union airports.
  3. Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, aimed at protecting passenger rights.

These initiatives are expected to bring benefits for operators, carriers, passengers and shippers. Benefits such as tripling airspace capacity by 2035, reducing the cost of air traffic management, multiplying the safety of the sector and even reducing the environmental impact of air aviation. Examples of some of the improvements that can already be observed to date include:

  • The reduction of the average en-route delay caused by traffic flow management.
  • The decrease in average arrival delay caused by air traffic flow management.
  • The average length of the direct horizontal route has started with a downward trend.
  • The improvement of cost efficiency.

However, there are still some areas for further improvement, such as the shortcomings of the slot allocation system; avoiding that most routes departing from an airport in the Union continue to be operated by only one or two airlines; reducing the financial difficulties faced by airlines and some airports (which have increased alarmingly in these complex times of pandemic we are experiencing); improving the supervision of some airlines currently operating in some Member States.

There is no doubt that European airspace has developed to an important extent in recent years, creating a trend that has not yet been implemented in other continents despite the great efforts that have been invested in this direction.

Although there is still a long way to go, global airspace is moving towards union, transversality and sustainability, thus facilitating the intermodality of means of transport, the reduction of costs (economic, personal and environmental), as well as the development of new technologies, which undoubtedly results in a more positive progress of society.