It took mass disruption of Europe's air space to bring the significance of the Single European Sky (SES) initiative firmly onto the political agenda, but this heightened profile may boost the programme as it enters its most critical year yet.
"I've suddenly got a lot of help from people because of the volcanic ash issue," says Jeff Poole, who has become IATA's SES guru. "But the benefits in emergency situations are a small element compared with potential day-to-day performance improvements. At least it pushed the importance of the network manager role and the Single European Sky."
Key SES moves in 2010
Poole admits that SES, which promises to deliver a cohesive network of airspace blocks, along with a host of safety and efficiency gains, has been a "sad story" over the last 17-18 years. But change is afoot. The SES team has adopted a more performance-driven approach, setting accountable targets to push progress forward. "After a lot of discussion and inaction, it is happening now and 2010 is probably the most critical year."
In 2010 several boxes must be ticked. The performance framework has been completed, the new SES charging system is being finalised and by year-end a network manager will be appointed, charged with ensuring harmonious operations of the new system.
Airlines have long bemoaned the air navigation service provider cost recovery system. This is due to change to a more incentivised regime, where the most efficient ANSPs are rewarded and inefficient players are penalised. "The whole idea is to drive ANSP performance, enabling them to make a loss," says Poole. "If they make a loss they should not be allowed to just flop it all into the next period." The issue of what will happen with historic under recovery is also on the table this year.
"Everything will be set up 2011 and when we fire the starting gun 2012 everything must be in place. If we get it wrong we will have to live with it for three to fives years before we can change it again," says Poole.