Following the liberalisation of the European air transport market in the 1990s, connectivity has grown significantly within Europe, as well as between Europe and other regions of the world. However, the potential for efficient connectivity on the continent is still not being fulfilled.

To cope efficiently with the expected increase in traffic, Europe’s airspace needs modernisation. The European air traffic management system currently handles around 26,000 flights per day, but the manner in which they are managed is inefficient, with each individual ANSP responsible for the airspace over its territory. The European Union set up the SESAR Joint Undertaking to help develop the tools necessary for a transition towards a shared airspace. While the SESAR initiative has successfully developed a number of technical and operational efficiency measures, achieving a degree of integration, overall progress towards achieving a Single European Sky (SES) has been slower than initially hoped for.

The aviation industry is firmly behind efforts to achieve a fully integrated airspace, not only for the benefit of airlines, but also for the sake of passengers and the environment. Due to inefficiencies in European ATM, travellers are enduring unnecessary delays and aircraft are producing more CO2 emissions than they would under a modern, streamlined system.

The value of SES was shown by a report, published in April 2016, that compares the scenarios of ‘do nothing’ and full implementation of SES. And the results are striking. It concludes that airspace modernisation could deliver European consumers an additional $36 billion (€32 billion) of welfare benefits in the year 2035, compared to a ‘do nothing’ scenario (in which no further airspace modernisation takes place). The total present value of airspace modernisation over the 2015-2035 period comes to $143.5 (€126) billion.

These benefits would be realised through: more efficient air navigation services provision at a higher capacity, which translates into airline cost savings and lower air fares; time and reliability savings; connectivity growth; wider, associated economics benefits; and lower CO2 emissions.