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The Single European Sky is a legislative process to improve the overal ATM service in Europe.

The current applicable legislation can be found in the  synthetic view of EU regulatory on the Eurocontrol IANS website.

Single European Sky 1

The Single European Sky (SES) is a European initiative to improve the way Europe’s airspace is managed. Its purpose is to modernise Europe’s airspace structure and air traffic management technologies so as to ensure forecast growth in air traffic can be met, safely and sustainably, whilst reducing costs and improving environmental performance, ensuring Europe’s aviation industry remains globally competitive.

In 2004, the European Commission, kick of the Single European Sky (I) legislation with a package of four SES Regulations ((EC) Nos 549-552/2004 which form the foundation.

Single European Sky 2

The second regulatory package on the Single European Sky (SES II) was approved in 2009 and it changed the SES focus from capacity to performance in general. Its ultimate objective is to increase the economic, financial and environmental performance of the provisions of the Air Navigation Services in Europe.

In particular, the amendments to the SES I regulatory package introduced a comprehensive EU-wide Performance Scheme; a refocus of the Functional Airspace Blocks to be not just about airspace but service provision in general, and a Network Manager to co-ordinate certain actions at network level.

Furthermore, it extended the competences of European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), created in 2004, to air traffic management and thus shifted rulemaking support for technical implementing rules, as well as oversight of Member States, from Eurocontrol to EASA.

SES performance in a nutshell

One of the key features of SES II is the performance scheme

The performance and charging scheme aims at enhancing the performance of air navigation services through a gate-to-gate approach covering both en route and terminal air navigation services. The legislation lays down the conditions to setting targets in the key performance areas of safety, environment, airspace capacity (delays) and cost-efficiency through the adoption of European Union-wide performance targets and consistent national or Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) performance targets.

Performance targets are subject to incentives with a view to encouraging better performance, including the application of a traffic risk sharing mechanism in respect of the key performance area of cost-efficiency. Incentive schemes are setting parameters in a non-discriminatory and transparent manner for the purpose of rewarding or penalising actual performance in relation to the adopted performance targets.

An effective partnership between the main stakeholders, such as air navigation service providers, functional airspace blocks, airports, civil and military airspace users and the Network Manager is of key importance for the achievement of performance targets

The regulation reinforces the performance-oriented approach to ANS, principally through the adoption of EU-wide performance targets and binding national /FAB performance plans.

Performance Review Body (PRB) assists the Commission in setting up and managing the performance scheme for air navigation services..

The target settings are set by Reference Period 1 (RP1 – 2012 to 2014), RP2 (2015 to 2020) and RP3 , the target setting for the upcoming reporting period (2021- 2024).

In RP2 a reduction of cost was envisaged which created a burden on may ANSP, cutting down on staff, which led to staff shortages and greater delays/capacity when traffic increased (2015-2019). 

Charging scheme

One of the objectives of the Single European Sky (SES) programme is to bring  ANSPs closer to market conditions. Therefore, ANSPs are exposed to financial risks since 2012, both regarding costs and revenues. As for the revenues, this is done through a Traffic Risk Sharing (TRS) mechanism, which is integrated in the Performance and Charging Regulation. The difference between actual and expected traffic levels leads to more or less revenues for ANSPs than expected. Deviations within +/- 2% are entirely borne by the ANSP, while the part that exceeds the 10% difference is fully borne by the airspace users. In between 2% and 10% the risk is shared, with 30% for the ANSPs and 70% for the users..

The maximum loss for ANSPs is 2% (dead band) + 30% of the part between 2% and 10% (= 2.4%), hence 4.4% in total.

The TRS is calculated at the end of each year and it is recovered 2 years later through Unit Rate adjustments. So far, the TRS has been applied symmetrically between gains and losses.

SES 2+

The 2009 SES II-package has shown great promise, especially as regards the application of a more hands-off performance oriented model of economic regulation. With the implementation of that approach, important lessons have been learned that needed to be included in the regulations to refine the approach. Additionally, the SES II initiative left some overlaps in legislation, so that same provisions were found in several pieces of legislation. To perform these updates, the European Commission proposed an interim update of the SES rules, called Single European Sky 2+ .

One of the proposals of SES 2+ was unbundling of CNS/ATM services of the ANSP

Support services
Traditionally, all ATM services have been bundled into one monopoly provider and designated without use of public procurement rules. SES2+ proposed the application of normal procurement rules to ensure a transparent selection of the provider offering the best cost/benefit ratio.

The SES2+ proposal was put forward in June 2013, but was never completely agreed upon.

COVID 19

EC consultation ‘Aviation launched a draft proposal – COVID-19 response (Single European Sky, performance & charging, 3rd reference period)’, including a draft implementing regulation on exceptional measures for the third reference period (2020-2024) of the single European sky performance and charging scheme due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SES 2+ recast 2020

On 22/09/2020, the European Commission is proposing an upgrade of the Single European Sky regulatory framework which comes on the heels of the European Green Deal, after the previous SES 2 + recast of 2009 stalled due to various reasons.

According to EC, the objective is to modernise the management of European airspace and to establish more sustainable and efficient flightpaths. This can reduce up to 10% of air transport emissions. This proposal comes as the sharp drop in air traffic caused by the coronavirus pandemic calls for greater resilience of our air traffic management, by making it  easier to adapt traffic capacities to demand.The EC proposes actions such as:

  1. strengthening the European network and its management to avoid congestion and suboptimal flight routes;
  2. promoting a European market for data services needed for a better air traffic management;
  3. streamlining the economic regulation of air traffic services provided on behalf of Member States to stimulate greater sustainability and resilience;
  4. boosting better coordination for the definition, development and deployment of innovative solutions.

https://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/news/2020-09-22-ses-more-sustainable-and-resilient-air-traffic-management_en