Sovereignty-based amendments could scupper project

Long-standing European plans to unify airspace regulation are facing a potentially crippling delay after the European Parliament last week rejected military airspace changes demanded by several countries as part of the Single European Sky (SES) initiative.

Legislators are now preparing for a showdown with transport ministers over several sovereignty-based amendments which could result in the collapse of the entire project.

The proposal's parliamentary sponsor, Giovanni Claudio Fava, says the SES is "nowhere near ready for take-off". The Strasbourg, France-based congress dismissed several changes introduced by European foreign and transport ministers as "highly conservative".Fava says several European Union countries rejected the parliament's plans to share airspace between military and civilian users to "safeguard their exclusive rights over their airspace for the sake of their defence policies and obligations at international level".

The SES proposal is now almost certain to miss its operational deadline of 31 December 2004, as ministers are likely to reject the bill as now amended by the assembly, leading to "hard bargaining" in conciliation, says Fava.

Greece, whose foreign ministry headed negotiations on the issue, says member states are "refusing to accept any changes in sensitive areas such as co-operation between the civil and military domains and sovereignty over national airspace". Ministers added a clause in the proposal stating that member states could "adopt measures to ensure that their armed forces have sufficient airspace for adequate education and training purposes".

The parliament says a general reference to the organisation of armed forces is sufficient, and that a special reference to education and training is "superfluous".

France, with several others, is understood to be adamant its military no-fly zones be exempted from SES legislation, whereas the parliament had proposed a parallel decision process based on sharing airspace. Other points on which the parliament insisted include giving Eurocontrol observer status in the initiative's committee, and the provision to impose penalties on airlines breaking rules.

Source: Flight International