Select Committee on European Scrutiny Seventh Report


The European Scrutiny Committee has made further progress in the matter referred to it and has agreed to the following Report:—


COM(01) 123

COM(01) 564

Action programme on the creation of a Single European Sky; and

Draft Regulation laying down the framework for the creation of a Single European Sky.

Draft Regulation on the provision of air navigation services in the Single European Sky;

Draft Regulation on the organisation and use of airspace in the Single European Sky; and

Draft Regulation on the interoperability of the European air traffic management (ATM) network.

Legal base: Article 80(2) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 10 October 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 12 October 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 31 October 2001
Department: Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EMs of 9 November 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see paragraphs 1.2 and 1.5
To be discussed in Council: 6-7 December 2001
Committee's assessment: Legally and politically important
Committee's decision: For debate on the Floor of the House (with the Communication on a Single European Sky already recommended for debate)


1.1  Air traffic delays in 1999 are estimated by the Commission to have cost some _6 billion (£4 billion). In addition, the Commission estimates that organising and using more direct routes for aircraft could save up to 15% in aircraft fuel with obvious benefits for the aviation industry and the environment.

1.2  The task of overcoming the growing problem of air traffic delays was given to the Commission by the June 1999 Transport Council. The Commission submitted its response to the December 1999 Transport Council in its Communication entitled "the creation of a Single European Sky".[1] The Commission argued that the existing air traffic management (ATM) and air traffic control (ATC)[2] systems were, in effect, incompatible with the completion of the internal market and liberalisation of the aviation business as a whole. The Commission characterised the European ATM system as national "frontiers in the sky" amounting to "a patchwork of various national technologies and operating procedures co-ordinated by Eurocontrol, which has the effect of restricting the capacity of European airspace, aggravating the problems caused by the growth in traffic".[3]

1.3  According to the Commission, necessary reforms of air traffic management included:

    —  establishing routes according to air traffic and not national frontiers in order to maximise use of airspace;

    —  ensuring better coordination between civil and military use of airspace; and

    —  separating regulation and service provision in ATM and ATC within Member States and within Eurocontrol.

1.4  The previous Committee recommended on 12 July 2000 that the Communication be debated.[4] Subsequently it was decided to postpone the debate until after the Commission had published the findings of a High-Level Group looking into the details of the initiative.

The documents

1.5  Document (a) sets out a framework regulation for Air Traffic Management in Europe, including ideas on civil/military coordination. The document, which is a synthesis of a report from a High-Level Group (HLG) under the chairmanship of Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, was adopted by the Commission on 10 October 2001.[5] It includes an action programme and a framework regulation in order to create the Single European Sky.

1.6  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 9 November 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, (Mr David Jamieson) describes document (a) as follows:

    "The action programme discusses briefly the background to Single Sky and the findings of the HLG which confirmed the need for a new air traffic management (ATM) regulatory regime in which the European Union's legal powers were deployed to best effect. The action programme includes proposals on ATM safety, the organisation and management of airspace, the integration of military requirements, the standardisation of systems and operations, the provision of air traffic services and on the human (air traffic controllers) aspects of Single Sky. The target date for the creation of a Single European Sky is the end of 2004.

    "The attached Framework Regulation is designed to create by the end of 2004 a European airspace conceived and managed as a single continuum to optimise the safety and the overall efficiency of the European ATM network. It sets out:

      — a list of the high­level principles that must be followed in the creation of a Single Sky;

      — a definition of the work of the proposed Single Sky Committee[6];

      — relations with non­Community countries;

      — supervision, monitoring, performance review and impact assessment mechanisms;

      — the provision of safeguards; and

      — a legislative financial statement."

1.7  The Framework Regulation is supported by a further Communication[7] document (b), detailing three specific regulatory proposals to create a Single Sky:

      —  provision of air navigation services;

      —  organisation and use of airspace;

      —  interoperability of ATM network.

1.8  The Minister describes the three supporting proposals in his Explanatory Memorandum. The proposal relating to the provision of air navigation services:

    "sets out a draft authorisation system, compliance review mechanism and revised payment arrangements for the provision of air navigation services within the Community. This requires the establishment in each Member State of a national supervisory authority. This organisation, which should be independent of the body responsible for the management and operation of air navigation services, will be tasked with issuing authorisations to service providers and ensuring that these are complied with. The Regulation also proposes that Eurocontrol's Safety Regulatory Requirements will be made mandatory in Community States. In addition, it proposes the establishment of an equitable charging regime for air navigation services with the aim to achieve greater transparency with respect to the costs charged to airspace users."

1.9The proposal relating to the organisation and use of airspace

    "sets out a draft mechanism to establish a single coherent Community airspace with common design, planning and management procedures. This includes the creation of a single new European Upper Flight Information Region (FIR) above 28500 feet, to be followed within three years by the creation of a single FIR in the lower airspace. This is in contrast to the current situation of around 50 FIRs across the Community States and over 70 FIRs in the Eurocontrol area. The Upper FIR would include a number of "functional" blocks of airspace designed to maximise system efficiency rather than as at present be restricted to national boundaries. The Regulation also proposes enhanced civil/military co­ordination, including the full application of the Flexible Use of Airspace (FUA) concept, and the establishment of criteria for the use of segregated airspace."

1.10  The proposal relating to the interoperability of ATM network:

    "sets out a draft regulation designed to achieve interoperability between the Community's air navigation service providers and the creation of an internal market in equipment, systems and associated services. This includes the establishment of European technical ATM standards in co­operation with EUROCAE and, where relevant, with Eurocontrol. The starting date for putting these plans into operation is 1 January 2003 with the target date of 1 January 2009 for full compliance with interoperability standards. To support these objectives the proposal requires the Commission to consult relevant stakeholders with a view to establishing a widely supported strategic management programme for the introduction of new concepts and technologies in the Community ATM network".

The Government's view

 — Community framework: creation of Single Sky

1.11  The Government supports the overall aims of Single Sky and the need to enhance the European ATM system. The Minister says:

    "Single Sky offers the potential for significant improvements to the European ATM system over and above those that Eurocontrol might co­ordinate in forthcoming years in collaboration with Europe's air navigation service providers; even after Eurocontrol's revised Convention has come into force and the Community has acceded to it."

1.12  However, he adds that "the initiative raises some important policy implications that need close scrutiny, and amendment where necessary, before we can accept them." As regards the proposed Framework Regulation (document(a)), the Minister says:

    "The proposed Framework Regulation sets out the principles behind Single Sky but, as the Commission has opted for a regulation rather than a directive, these principles would be binding on States. The Government, while accepting the validity of most of these principles, will continue therefore to scrutinise these principles closely to ensure that they remain acceptable. This is especially the case with regard to their applicability to the military. We note that, for example, Article 2 implies that the military falls within the definition of air navigation service providers. The Government's view, however, is that it is not appropriate to deal with military operations within the first pillar of the European Union. We are therefore firmly opposed to making the Regulation applicable to the military and we will be making clear our views on this absolutely vital point to other Member States and the Commission in due course."

— Regulator for the European ATM system

1.13  The current arrangements for European co­operation in the area of ATM centre on Eurocontrol.[8] The Commission proposes that a Single Sky Committee be established, with both advisory and regulatory powers, to act as the regulator for EU members within the context of Eurocontrol. However, while the Government supports the creation of a robust and transparent regulator for the European ATM system, it has reservations about the proposed role of the Single Sky Committee. The Minister says:

    "The proposed Single Sky Committee (Article 7) has the potential to be the lead body in European ATM tasked with driving forward improvements to the system, in consultation with military and civil airspace users. However, the current Commission proposal sees the Single Sky Committee acting in an advisory role with the Commission able to overrule in some instances the decisions made by the Committee. The Commission, however, currently lacks the staff and expertise to act as the regulator for European ATM and wishes to lean very heavily on the Eurocontrol Organisation. The Government will be seeking further clarification on the precise role the Single Sky Committee will play, on how the military fits into it, and on Eurocontrol's role. This last point is crucial, as if Eurocontrol is to play a significant role in regulating European ATM, then its own organisational structure must reflect a clear institutional separation of its service provision from its regulatory functions as recommended recently in the House of Lords enquiry into civil/military use of airspace in Europe."

1.14  But overall the Government concludes that ratification of the revised Eurocontrol Convention and Community Accession to the Organisation combined with Single Sky will offer a real opportunity to provide a pan­European regulatory structure capable of delivering long­term improvements in the ATM system.

— Provision of air navigation services

1.15  As regards the Regulation on the provision of air navigation services, the Minister says:

    "The Government supports strongly the principle for each State to have an independent national supervisory authority and designated recognised air navigation service organisations (Articles 3, 4 and 7) that are separated. This is consistent with current UK policy whereby the Civil Aviation Authority is separated from National Air Traffic Services (NATS). Indeed, the Government considers that it is essential to have effective separation and we will scrutinise closely how other states intend to implement these requirements.

    "Safety is the paramount concern of air navigation service providers and the Government therefore welcomes the principle in Article 5 that ESARRs should be made mandatory within EU States. This would be an important step in strengthening yet further Europe's strong aviation safety culture.

    "The Government notes the intention (Article 6) to bring forward a further proposal concerning the licensing and training of air traffic controllers, and we will scrutinise this closely to ensure that the existing stringent requirements for licences are maintained.

    "The Government notes the proposal in Article 8(2) that existing service providers are entitled to continue as the designated service provider for up to 3 years without prejudice to Article 5 of the Regulation on Airspace. In view of the 30­year NATS licence, the only one of its kind in Europe, this may cause the UK difficulties. The Government will therefore seek a provision that does not disadvantage either the UK or the NATS Public Private Partnership (PPP).

    "The Government supports the principle of the need to enhance co­operation between the different service providers (Article 9 and 10) and we agree with the proposal's objective to create a market in the provision of ancillary services. The NATS PPP has, we believe, placed this Organisation in a unique position amongst Europe's air navigation service providers with the ability to benefit from such a process. However, the Government has difficulties with Article 11 on unbundling accounts as we consider that it is actually quite difficult to separate the costs for each service, for example the cost of providing air traffic control at each aerodrome, that is provided by a single air navigation service provider. We will be looking to the Commission to provide more details on how they believe this objective may be achieved.

    "The Regulation details proposals to amend the existing ATM charging regime. The Government supports the need to have an equitable charging regime (Article 14(1)(a)) and through The Transport Act 2000 we have already empowered the Civil Aviation Authority to carry this out. We support strongly the need for incentives to be used, but, while these are mentioned in Article 14(3)(d), we would like to see much greater emphasis being placed on this approach to the charging mechanism. We are concerned, however, by the suggestion, also in Article 14(3)(d) that a project fund should be created to assist specific projects. The Government will closely scrutinise any more detailed proposals when they are issued.

    "The Regulation also provides, pursuant to Article 10 of the Framework Regulation, a performance­review mechanism..[.].. the Government supports this idea strongly."

— Use of airspace

1.16  As regards the Regulation on the use of airspace in the Single European Sky, the Government supports the principle that Community airspace should be established as a single operating airspace. However, as the Minister makes clear, the Government:

    "is concerned about the applicability of this regulation to the military authorities. ... we, and this we believe is a view shared by other States, are firmly opposed to military operations being brought within the first Pillar of the European Union. We will be making clear our views on this absolutely vital point to other Member States and the Commission in due course.

    "The Government is interested in the idea of a common European FIR in the airspace above 28,500 feet, providing this takes into account International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements. However, we would like to see further details on what is being proposed before making our decision on this and on the target date for implementation of the European FIR in the lower airspace.

    "The Regulation proposes the idea of 'functional blocks of airspace' (Article 5). It is not clear from this article who will be responsible for configuring these blocks, classifying them (Article 6), and organising the route structure (Articles 7 and 8). The proposed Single Sky Committee clearly has a role using the Regulatory Procedures set out in Council Decision 1999/468/EC, but, in view of the lack of resources within the Commission to carry out support for this activity, the onus appears to fall on Eurocontrol to carry out much of this work. The Government is concerned that Eurocontrol, with its current institutional structure, is not best placed to act as a robust regulator. We will be making this point in due course and we will also seek assurance that the role of the 'regulator' will be determining the high­level strategy and that national airspace authorities and air navigation service providers will continue to play an important role in airspace matters.

    "The Government acknowledges that there is a need to improve co­operation between civil and military airspace users and we welcome, for example, the proposal to include in Article 10 a reference to the need to adopt the FUA concept. The UK has implemented this concept already in the upper airspace, as well as some of its principles in the lower airspace, and it has been a considerable success. Unfortunately, some European States have yet to fully implement this concept and this needs to be rectified quickly. Whilst accepting the principle that FUA could be promoted in this regulation, the Government is firmly against bringing the military within the first Pillar of the European Union and therefore we intend to take a robust line with the Commission on Articles 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, Article 11 and Article 12. These are unacceptable in their current form and we believe that this is a view shared by a number of other European States.

    "Finally, the Government supports the need to further develop air traffic flow management in Europe (Article 13). Eurocontrol's CFMU has contributed greatly to the enhancement of capacity in Europe's ATM system, and the further development of this unit will bring significant benefits. The Government is therefore keenly interested in the proposed rules for air traffic flow management, and their likely impact on the CFMU."

— Interoperability of the European ATM network

1.17  As regards the Regulation on the interoperability of the European ATM network, the Minister says:

    "The Government considers that as this regulation further develops the Council Directive on these matters, we can support its principles providing that these result in an efficient standardisation and rule making process. It is clearly beneficial to have a pan­European ATM system that can achieve better interoperability than is currently the case. The European ATM system is at present fragmented with numerous different technical systems in operation. This is despite Eurocontrol's work in recent years to overcome these difficulties and, of course, this fragmentation has led to significant inefficiencies existing in the system.

    "The Government endorses the proposed roles of Eurocontrol and EUROCAE in the process of developing Community Specifications (Article 7) as they both have specific skills that should be utilised. It is the Government's view that these specifications should, while allowing for interoperability, not be too prescriptive otherwise there is the danger that States, particularly those with specific commercial interests, will hinder the specification agreement mechanism and therefore delay the process. We will be informing the Commission, and other States, of our views at the appropriate time.

    "We also endorse the principle that Eurocontrol can assist, where appropriate, in drawing up the work programme (Article 8). It is, however, not entirely clear how a smooth interchange between Eurocontrol and the Single Sky Committee will be effected, and we will be seeking further clarification from the Commission on this point in due course. We will also scrutinise Eurocontrol's regulatory role given the presence of the Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre within its Organisation structure and, by about 2007, the Central European Air Traffic Services Control Centre (CEATS). Clearly, it is essential to avoid conflicts of interest and Eurocontrol's current institutional structure will not make these easy to avoid.

    "The Government welcomes the proposed consultation mechanism with stakeholders (Article 14), but we would like to see this extended even further. The aviation industry has a big role to play and they need to [be] brought together early enough so that their views are taken into account and common objectives/strategies agreed. We therefore support the principle of a formal industry consultation body as recommended in the HLG Report and as proposed in the Single Sky Action Programme, rather than the more informal arrangements referred to in Article 14. Moreover, the Government supports the principle of using the ENPRM process as a means of addressing stakeholder views in an appropriate way and we will inform other Member States and the Commission of our views at the appropriate time.

    "The Government notes in Article 15 the proposed starting date of 1 January 2003 for the application of the essential requirements given in Annex II of the proposal with the target date of 1 January 2009 for full compliance to be achieved. We consider, however, that this represents a very tight timescale that may well be unrealistic given the need to secure agreement on the way forward and in light of recent history with other ATM technical harmonisation programmes sponsored through Eurocontrol. We will keep this point in mind and may, subject to the progress on Single Sky, seek a postponement in the dates given in the proposal."

— Gibraltar

1.18  The Single European Sky dossier has been stalled for nine months as a consequence of the long-running dispute between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar. As a way of breaking the deadlock, the UK Government reluctantly agreed that Gibraltar airport be suspended from the Single Sky Framework Regulation and subsequent implementing regulations. At the same time, the UK insisted that it wanted Gibraltar airport to enjoy the full benefits of EC aviation measures and that the suspension would have no practical effect on the operation of the airport, not least because the focus of the EC's Single European Sky, at least initially, will be the organisation of upper airspace. As a result of that agreement between Spain and the UK, political endorsement was given to the Single Sky proposal at the 15 October 2001 Transport Council.

1.19  The Minister says:

    "we have made clear to Spain that this agreement was without prejudice to the application of future measures to Gibraltar airport. So, the agreement does not automatically unblock the European Community's Accession to Eurocontrol or other measures that remain blocked because of Spain's insistence on suspension of Gibraltar airport.

    "We have consistently opposed the suggestion that Gibraltar airport be suspended from the Community's Accession Protocol to Eurocontrol."


1.20  We note that the total direct cost of the proposed regulation is put at _9.82 million for the years 2002 to 2006, which is small compared with the estimated annual _6 billion cost of air traffic delays. As the Minister makes clear, despite the terrible events of September 11, air traffic volumes are forecast to grow in the medium to long term and there is renewed interest in improving air safety and reducing the cost of air travel.

1.21  In July 2000, the previous Committee recommended a debate on the Communication on the creation of a Single European Sky, but the debate was postponed pending the report of the High-Level Group on the proposal. With the publication of the Commission's proposed regulations, we recommend that a debate takes place on the Floor of the House on the basis of these new documents as well as the earlier Communication. Such a debate will provide the House with an opportunity to express its view on the overall costs and benefits of Single Sky and on particular aspects of the proposals, such as the provisions relating to shared use of airspace by civil and miliary aircraft, the desirability of a clear separation of the functions of service provider and regulator, the precise roles of the Single Sky Committee and Eurocontrol, the suspension of Gibraltar airport from the Framework Regulation and supporting texts and the potential effect of the proposals on the viability of NATS.

1  The Commission published its White Paper entitled "Freeing Europe's Airspace" in 1996. Our predecessors reported on that document on 24 April 1996 and 10 July 1996 - (17077) 5803/96; see HC 51-xvii (1995-96), paragraph 5 (24 April 1996) and HC 51-xxv (1995-96), paragraph 8 (10 July 1996). Back

2  A subset of ATM. Back

3  The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, currently comprising 30 members mainly in western and central Europe. Air navigation services include air traffic services, other services (search and rescue, meteorological, aeronautical information services), and ancillary services (communication, navigation and surveillance). Back

4  (20813) 13735/99; see HC 23-viii (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (9 February 2000) and HC 23-xxiv (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (12 July 2000). The debate recommendation was confirmed on 18 July 2001: HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 1.  Back

5   The High Level Group comprised civilian and military representatives of the Community Member States, together with representatives of Norway and Switzerland. Their report was a detailed study of the Communication, "Freeing Europe's Airspace", which was considered by the previous Committee in its Reports of 9 February and 12 July 2000 - (20813) 13735/99; see previous footnote. Back

6   The proposed Single Sky Committee will have both regulatory and advisory powers to determine regulations, for example on the use of airspace and technical standards relating to introperability.  Back

7   COM(2001) 564 final, Brussels, 10.10.2001. Back

8  Eurocontrol is based in Brussels with a staff of some 1,000. Gross expenditure for all of the Agency's activities in 2000 was _509 million, an increase of 3% on 1999. It acts as a regulator making decisions about air traffic arrangements throughout Europe, but also acts as a service provider of navigation services, for example in the Maastricht upper area control.  Back

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