The European Commission has requested Italy, Cyprus and Greece to urgently clarify the measures taken to establish Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), required under the Single European Sky legislation 2004, in order to reform Europe’s out-of-date air traffic control system.

According to a press release issued by the European Commission, the FABs are intended to replace the current patchwork of 27 national air traffic blocks with a network of larger, regional blocks, to gain efficiency, cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Commission is looking to head off a capacity crunch as the number of flights is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years. Overall, inefficiencies in Europe’s fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to € 5 billion each year to airlines and their customers. They add 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight, forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.

Vice-President Siim Kallas said “this legal action should send a strong political message about our determination to push through the reforms to Europe’s air traffic control that are so badly needed. Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky. We cannot afford to continue this way. Europe’s skies face a capacity crunch, and the reform of our aging air traffic control system is too important to passengers, airlines, and the environment to be allowed to fail,” he added.

Member states have since 2004, been obliged to establish FABs. Due to the slow progress, a binding deadline of 4 December 2012 was set in 2009, but implementation is still far too slow. The Commission is now seeking clarification, through a letter of formal notice, of the measures Italy, Cyprus and Greece have taken to put the basic legal structures for FABs in place.

Delays in delivering operational FABs are holding back the implementation of the EU’s Single European Sky to a significant degree, which in turn generates inefficiencies in the entire European air traffic management system, bringing extra costs of close to €5 billion a year, which are passed on to airlines and their customers — as well as increased journey times, delays and emissions.

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