Proposed single airspace block could also be extended to parts of Italy if successful

French and Swiss air navigation authorities are to develop a technical and operational co-operation strategy with a view to combining their countries' airspace into a single block - which could also be expanded to include parts of Italy.

Joint designation of airspace responsibility between the two countries' air navigation providers - Switzerland's Skyguide and France's DSNA - could be achieved by 2008 if the plan goes ahead.

It follows the submission of a feasibility study into creating a unified functional airspace block (FAB) to Swiss and French civil and military regulators.

Swiss and French airspace control is not strictly divided along the geographical border between the two countries. Skyguide is already responsible for a section of adjacent French airspace, which accounts for 20% of its activity. But the two sides state that a combined functional block of airspace would enable them to develop "new forms of intensified collaboration" between neighbouring air traffic control services and overcome the "limitations" of the present Franco-Swiss system.

Skyguide and French counterpart DSNA agreed to study the possibility in November 2004 and have since assessed the opportunities and potential difficulties involved in such a scheme.

The study addressed safety management requirements, the need for flexibility in controlling traffic flow, regulatory issues, cost benefits and route charging options.

Switzerland's Federal Council has approved negotiations with France on the necessary initial steps towards setting up the jointly-operated airspace. "This initiative could also extend over the next few months to other European service providers interested in becoming partners," say DSNA and Skyguide, adding that Italian provider ENAV has also "indicated an interest in participating".

France, Switzerland and Italy are already co-operating on the development of a joint flight-data processing system for air traffic management, under a project known as "Coflight".

FABs are part of the "Single European Sky" unified airspace management programme being driven by the European Commission. Other groups of states - including the UK and Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and countries in Scandinavia and Central Europe - are also studying creation of such blocks.

Source: Flight International