European Union: Single European Sky

Last Updated: 18 May 2017
Article by Firat Coskun

Most Read Contributor in Turkey, December 2017

As is noted in international agreements, it is crucial to make clear the meanings and definitions of aviation terms. So that the subject of this newsletter is clear, it is of the essence to properly explain the term 'sky.'

The term 'sky' that corresponds to "Luftraum," in German, and "Espace aérien," in French, is defined as the area lying above the earth's surface, which is layered with air stratum. Although the term, 'airspace' is a much more accurate definition to describe the same area using a three-dimensional platform, in Turkish aviation practice, the term, 'sky' is preferred, rather than, 'airspace' to describe that specific area.

The Chicago Convention ("Convention"), which was signed on the final day of the International Civil Aviation Conference held between November 1st and December 7th, 1944, in Chicago, is generally deemed as the Chicago Regime in more recent times, in civil aviation practice, due to its constitutional scope and framework. Within the context of the Chicago Convention, the territory of a state means the sovereignty and empery of that state in its specific territory, including territorial waters and mandated lands.

The Convention disposes the liberty of the sky on the areas outside of the sovereignty of any state –as is same for the open seas- within the framework of the full sovereignty of the states as to their sky area. As the liberty regime is in force over international skies, all aircraft, whether commercial or state, could fly without constraint over this area. Despite the fact that there is no explicit provision concerning this point, Article 2 of the Chicago Convention, a contrario, leads to this conclusion.

In light of the foregoing explanations, the Single European Sky, which is the subject of this newsletter, is much more easily understood. With an annual capacity of 800 million passengers, the European Sky has major economic potential. The European Union ("EU") has been working to realize the dream of a Single European Sky in order to take advantage of that potential.

The European aviation industry is a massive industry that encapsulates more than 400 airports, 60 air traffic control providers and 150 airlines, and, in addition, it provides employment opportunities for millions of people. The European Union would like to take advantage of this air traffic that has major potential in terms of passenger capacity in a more streamlined and efficient manner. With that purpose, in 2009, the EU took over the management and responsibilities that had been previously held by member states. Since then, the EU has worked toward its goal of establishing a Single European Sky through a number of projects, aiming to reform air traffic management across the European continent. These have included the planning of flights, not in terms of airports, but the routes taken by airplanes, and also air traffic operations, being carried out within the scope of plans that take into account the best in safety, economic viability, and environmental sensitivity. In brief, this project, other than uniting the European sky, aims to reduce the delays in flights, increase safety measures, reduce the damage caused by airplanes to the lowest level, and reduce costs with respect to aviation services.

The constitution of a single European sky began, in a very limited manner, after the 1990s. There are two substantial reasons behind laying of the foundation of this project so late. Firstly, the unwillingness of the state members to delegate their authority and, secondly, confronting and differentiating benefits. The first pan-Europe comprehensive regulations concerning the aviation industry came into being with three directives published in 1992, with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. However, those regulations did not address the increasing number of problems arising in the aviation industry. Upon the Maastricht Treaty entering into force, new decisions could not be made in the EU regarding the aviation industry. Subsequently, one of the most important developments was a communiqué published on December 1st, 1999, by the EU Commission that addressed the European Council and the European Parliament. In this Communiqué, it was recommended that a Single European Sky be established. This recommendation stipulated that the system would have an efficient mechanism to prevent delays, and also that newly developed technologies would be implemented across the whole of Europe in the aviation industry. It was within this context that the Single European Sky ATM Research ("SESAR") project, which is composed of three phases, was established.

Within the context of the first phase, as a first step, between 2004 and 2008, a "Definition Phase" was set into motion. In this phase, the main goal was to establish new generation air traffic management systems, and on December 31st, 2004, the EU Commission promulgated Regulation No. 549/2004 ("Regulation"). The scope of the Regulation included the provision of air navigation systems, the organization and use of the sky, and changes in EU countries' management of air traffic. The Regulation also sought to improve the aviation industry and reinforce existing security standards in the EU. Within this framework, new structures were introduced, such as the "National Supervisory Authorities," the "Single Sky Committee," and the "Industry Consultation Body."

The second phase, which can be also deemed as the "Development Phase," lasted from 2008 to 2013. The first striking development in this period was Regulation No. 1008/2008, which was published by the Commission in 2008, and instituted the legal infrastructure for the European aviation industry. Regulation No. 1008 laid out the provisions for issues such as the issuance of licenses required for those who intend to be involved in air transport in the EU, as well as the validity and cancellation of those licenses. In addition, the said regulation put into effect a number of provisions concerning the determination of prices for air transportation services. This phase was managed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking with an enormous budget of 2.1 billion Euros.

Next, and finally, came the "Deployment Phase," which is ongoing. In the project plan for this period, which is projected to last from 2014 to 2020, the goal is to create new infrastructure for air traffic management, and to bring into being infrastructural operations. In this phase, the European Aviation Safety Agency ("EASA") will oversee the SESAR project.

Particularly, in the past year, the striking of air traffic controllers in several European countries caused the cancellation of thousands of flights, and approximately one million minutes of delay. Therefore, the International Air Transport Association ("IATA") demanded of the governments of the EU member states to concentrate on the Single European Sky project for the delay-free continuity of air traffic.

Despite that all of the restrictions among the national borders have been removed on road transportation, along with the EU member states, national borders on the air transport all across the EU remain. The EU failed to produce effective solutions to the problems that are growing with each passing day, and now must deal with considerable congestion and delays. In comparison with other businesses, the aviation sector, which is subject to much more regulation than other industries, in the early 1990s, the Single European Sky initiative, was launched with the intention of resolving industrial problems. The legal infrastructure of the European aviation industry is reorganized by the EU, through Regulation No. 1008, in 2008. Turkey's accession process, which was initiated in 2005, is determined with progression reports that are released by the EU Harmonization Commission ("Commission") for Turkey. The Commission announced that there is still room for improvement, while some progress has taken place on the way to harmonize EU air traffic aspects. However, in 2006, the General Directorate of State Airports Authority launched System Modernization of ATM Resources in Turkey ("SMART"), which is one of the largest and postmodern projects, not only in Europe, but also all around the world. Moreover, it is expected to take significant steps in this respect concerning the legislative regulations within a short period of time.

As a result, in the first part of the early 2000s, the EU failed to meet expectations in solving the problems of the aviation industry. On the other hand, Turkey is at the ready for the integration to the Single European Sky by all means and, except for minor legal regulations, Turkey is ahead of the majority of the EU member states.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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