EU nations must cede more control: Bulc

European nations must demonstrate far more flexibility if the Single European Sky is to fulfil its mission to prevent gridlock and decline.

Speaking at a high level conference of EU transport ministers in Italy, the new transport commissioner for Europe Violeta Bulc launched into her five year term with a plea that far from viewing the European effort to radically overhaul the region’s air transport network as a political stripping away of a nation’s control over its airspace sovereignty, it should be seen as a necessary step to deliver a better deal for consumers, travellers and business.

“I want to be clear: this is not a challenge to European diversity or the sovereignty of any country. It is not about procedures, powers or prerogatives. No, it is about our people. About finding a better system that can support what they need, and what the aviation sector needs,” she said.

In an appeal to every member state to show flexibility, Bulc said compromises that were acceptable to all parties could be found so that the dream of a single European Sky could become a reality.

“Our duty remains not just to improve and agree EU laws – but to implement those already agreed. We need additional steps to make Functional Airspace Blocks a reality. In some cases they remain today little more than an empty construct, offering little change or benefit. In that case, the Commission obviously had no option but to take legal action.”

Referring to the many political setbacks and reluctance to implement the steps toward structural overhaul ordered by Brussels since 2004, Bulc said the Single European Sky was ‘still far from its destination’.

“The journey has been tricky and at times tense,” she said, noting that general reluctance by nation states had led to a controversial revision and strengthening of the framework called ‘SES2+’.

“I do not want here to go into every detail of the negotiations we are having on the SES2+ proposal,” said the commissioner. “There is another time and place for that negotiation. I know significant strides have been made in Parliament and Council. And I am confident that we can still reach an agreement on substance under the Italian Presidency.”

She said that with 28,000 air traffic movements a day – Europe was fast approaching the limit of what its systems can manage.

“We are approaching gridlock in the skies; a dire threat for the growth of our economy, the competitiveness of airlines and airports, the mobility and opportunity enjoyed by our citizens. The EU has enough economic problems – I don’t want us to add one more. We are here to solve those problems not to create them.”

As a known enthusiast of multi-modal interoperability, she added that aviation should look to other transport areas and benefit from their experience such as the European rail network having a capable and independent supervisory authority in each of the member states.

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