The foundation on which the European Union is bidding to unify its airspace by means of redrawing geographical boundaries could undergo a radical revision when member states' proposals come under scrutiny in 2009.

Speaking at the European Aviation Club late last month, Victor Aguado, Eurocontrol director general, warned that "strong" political leadership would be needed "beyond what local efforts would achieve just by themselves at national level" to advance the development of functional airspace blocks (FAB) - a crucial element within the European Commission's Single European Sky harmonisation programme.

"We know that a more optimal structure of civil and military airspace would yield savings in the order of €1.4 billion [$1.84 billion]," says Aguado.

"Eurocontrol's Performance Review Commission has also established that the fragmentation of air navigation service provision organisations and centres in Europe incurs annual costs also in the order of €1.4 billion," he adds.

Aguado says that "in this respect" functional airspace blocks are "a welcome and major step forward", but he warns that "reaping the expected benefits of €2 billion per annum will require much more than even those initiatives".

Six countries - Germany, France, Switzerland and the three Benelux nations, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - are examining the potential for creating a single block of airspace covering the core area of Europe through what is termed the FAB Europe Central programme.

Sweden and Denmark, Spain and Portugal, Ireland and the UK, and a number of central European countries have also embarked on projects to develop functional blocks of airspace.

Aguado says: "There is no magic number. Each state or partnership of states will have to declare what functional airspace block it is constructing and have to address whether that will deliver the benefits of the fundamental approach."

An air traffic management industry source warns: "The question ought to be asked: are individual states going to encourage their air navigation service providers to merge where there is the usual issue of highly paid managers losing their jobs? In 2000, the merest hint of amalgamation led the French to threaten strike action."

Source: Flight International