Plans, especially long-term complex ones, tend to evolve as they develop. Indeed, they should do just that: the conceptual ideas on which an original strategy was based should not be allowed to become a straitjacket as practical understanding develops.

The Single European Sky (SES) project is the ultimate example of a long-term, very complex project. The complexity of the technology required to achieve the long-term performance aims for air traffic management (ATM) across Europe is the least of the problems for a project co-ordinator/facilitator like Eurocontrol.

Reaching objectives depends on politics, harmonising national laws as they apply to ATM, and all the "stakeholders" in the project - the system users, the air navigation service providers (ANSP), airport provision and management, real-time meteorological service standards and, finally, the technology developers.

And all this consent and co-operation has to be reached without busting anyone's budget. No wonder Eurocontrol's still relatively new director general, David McMillan, remarked to Flight International: "One of the key things that strikes you when you come to a job like this is the very significant number of parties there are to all the decisions that are taken." He has a talent for understatement.

 © Flight International

McMillan said his vision of a working SES was one in which "all the terminal control areas join up in the best possible way". That's a simple way of saying they don't now, and ANSPs have to find a way of changing that. If that means reorganising airspace into so-called functional airspace blocks (FAB), then so be it.

But the idea of FABs could also turn out to be a straitjacket unless it develops. McMillan admits there is no unified pan-European concept of what an FAB is or what it's for. Actually, the FAB is really a concept, a tool, a realisation that things have to change even if the means by which change is achieved develops with experience. It is so important for the SES to succeed that no one should be afraid of reappraising ideas as they are applied, if that is what it takes to get there.

Source: Flight International