European countries got a kick from Brussels last week urging them to stop dithering and be fully prepared for the planned implementation of the Single European Sky co-ordinated air traffic management scheme in 2012.

European Union transport commissioner Siim Kallas expressed his disappointment to aviation leaders that many member states have given the scheme a low priority at a summit meeting in Bruges on re-establishing European competitiveness. He insisted SES was not an option but, rather, "an essential requirement for an efficient and sustainable air transport system in Europe".

But Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines, issued a more urgent call to action.

"European airlines are paying €3 billion [$4.2 billion] unnecessarily for an inefficient air traffic management system," he said. "The absence of a Single Sky is anti-European, anti-consumer and anti-environment, because flying indirect routeings creates 16 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions.

"We are also concerned that SES is not listed by the Commission among its top innovation projects when we consider the broad economic and environmental impact it represents."

On the broader theme of competitiveness, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway told the summit that "Europe's politicians are waking up to the importance of aviation for their citizens, for their economies. And not before time. While Europe's air transport sector is beset by burdensome regulation and 20th century infrastructure, the rest of the world is racing ahead, carrying passengers and cargo that could be flying European."

Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme, whose government hosted the event in its role as EU president, added that the European aviation and aerospace industry today needs ambitious, multidimensional projects like Airbus or the Galileo satellite navigation programme and that the SES could meet those criteria.

The Bruges summit followed close on the heels of 20 October's first meeting of the European Aviation Platform, a high-level government and industry strategy group that will meet twice yearly to advise Brussels on ways to ensure Europe's aviation and air transport industries remain competitive.

The platform was formed in part as a reaction to Europe's un-coordinated response to April's volcanic ash cloud crisis, which led to extensive air space closures and billions of euros in economic impact.

Source: Flight International