Julian Moxon/BRUSSELS

A "single European sky" is on the political agenda after a 28 January meeting of transport ministers from the 38 European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) states. The ministers called for a high-level working group to study how to reduce air traffic delays in Europe. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called the meeting "helpful but inadequate".

European Commission (EC) transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio first proposed the "single sky" concept last year. She wants to remove international "borders in the sky" that restrict the creation of a more efficient air traffic management (ATM) system in Europe, where delays reached record levels last year.

Other initiatives taken during the meeting include the launch of the "gate-to gate" ATM2000+ ATM programme, designed to cater for an expected increase in demand up to the year 2015. The ministers also called for measures to reduce delays this summer to 1997 levels (which averaged 3.5min a flight) while accommodating a traffic increase of "at least a 5.5% over the summer 1999 level".

Another study, to be completed by year-end, is to look at the safety, environmental cost and financial implications of increasing capacity in line with demand. Ministers have been forced to admit that "there can be no certainty that the present imbalance between demand and capacity can be eliminated". The report promises to break new ground by setting limits other than airspace capacity on air traffic development and, according to one EC source, may "change completely the way we think about air traffic management in Europe".

IATA director general Pierre Jeanniot says: "It is essential not only to build a single European sky, but also to liberalise air traffic services. They must break out of the cycle of doing too little, too late."

The "single skies" working group, to include observers from Eurocontrol and non-European Union (EU) ECAC members, has been told to complete its study in time for the Council of Europe to decide in June how to encourage EU members to give up their airspace sovereignty. "It is not going to be easy," says de Palacio, "but we cannot continue with a system that has borders in the sky. A lot of structural changes are needed."

The report will also look at the problems of releasing airspace used by the military for training - which has begun in Europe, but "only on a piecemeal basis", says the EC.

Source: Flight International