Fulfilling The Promise

Margus RahuojaThe European performance scheme for the next five-year period would appear to be in turmoil. ATM spoke to Margus Rahuoja, the European Commission’s new air transport director to discuss the status of the Single European Sky (SES)

2015 was meant to be a watershed year, one that would see a fully functional, industry-led Deployment Manager and the first €240m tranche of public funds coming through for the rollout of advanced SESAR technologies.

And then the Single Sky Committee made up as it is of member states met in December and signally failed to agree with the European Commission (EC) over fundamental cost savings to be achieved between 2015-2019.

This demonstrates once again that the Single European Sky grinds to a shuddering halt in the absence of support at member state level.

Consensus

At the official launch of the ATM Master Plan Update Campaign, performance dominated the discussion. An all-round consensus soon formed around the fact that a failure to achieve the desired cost savings would severely challenge the SESAR technology framework, anchored as it is on performance-oriented criteria.

The new EC air transport director Margus Rahuoja is no stranger to high level European air transport politicking having been the former transport commissioner Siim Kallas’ aviation adviser.

Rahuoja is a personality known for his hard line on infringement proceedings against EU member states following their collective failure to implement any meaningful Functional Airspace Block reform. That accounted for most of them.

Delegates attending the Master Plan summit were told in no uncertain terms that the EU performance scheme was not working through no fault of its architects but due to the lack of ambition on the part of member states.

“At the outset, the motivation, the purpose that the Commission had was ambitious but it does not have the power to deliver on the political request,” he tells Air Traffic Management.

Landscape

Even so, he points out that while the airlines complain that little has happened, the ANSP landscape has significantly changed. “You only have to look where we’ve come since the Single European Sky was launched: numerous states all with different systems, different regulations, state-run natural monopolies with very specific and regulated labour conditions.”

“We have moved a long way since then but it is a step-by-step process and we do need patience.”

Rahuoja now talks of the need for compromise and dialogue – especially in the field of labour relations where change is as feared as it is required.

“The community has had very little to say about the social discussions that are taking place within the member states and these have a tremendous effect on the effort levels that the member states are prepared to make,” notes Rahuoja. “Here, the Commission has to be able to somehow bring all those member states, different interests and ambition levels and make them into one performance system.”

He denies that this is any softening in approach. “No, because we have been extremely energetic in explaining the need for reform but we have also been very conscious of how far we have to go. We still want Europe to function on the basis of decision-making and not just to say ‘the Single European Sky is not working so let’s just forget about it’.”

Frustration

Rahuoja talks of a commission whose role is focussed on finding the ‘common denominator’ and will readily admit that the collective level of ambition should be higher. “We will express our frustration about that but that doesn’t mean we will stop working on compromise solutions. We are not softening, we are simply being realistic,” he says.

The SSC meeting saw several member states table cost savings that were inconsistent with EC prescribed targets. They included Austria, the Slovak Republic, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands and Italy. So how will consensus be achieved?

Rahuoja firstly highlights the need to work through the SSC. “In that context, we will soon adopt a Commission Decision regarding the inconsistencies of the targets of these countries. This is not an area where we will give up and we will be very relentless in pressing these countries to change their approach,” says Rahuoja.

“We are already looking towards where the next targets should be and how to construct this in a way that both maintains the level of ambition and also allows us to catch up on the things we did not do in the first phase and that we will not achieve in the second period.”

Plan B

Rahuoja says this will be achieved in part by the European Commission’s ‘plan B’ to speed up the implementation process. The so-called SES 2+ is a package of measures which challenge the state-owned monopolies within air navigation service provision.

“The SES 2+ legislation will give us more leverage and provides us with a step towards where we want to get to although this is not the ‘steady state’ we want to achieve.”

He says that while centralised services are important, he is personally looking more to the lessons learned from the second legislative package and construct different performance targets to deliver improvements.

“We see how FABs had their limitations so we would like to see first and foremost the development of partnerships between the ANSPs to deliver efficiency gains. That for me is the centrepiece of the new legislation,” he says.

Deployment

Another important issue will be assessing the correct level of SESAR technology deployment. “Should it be done at the local level, at the ANSP industrial partnership level or at a central level? In every single case we would like to see a cost benefit analysis and for this we will rely heavily on the analysis carried out by the newly created Deployment Manager.”

Rahuoja hardly doubts what is at stake: huge investment, ambition and not an inconsiderable amount of political capital.

“Make no mistake, it is the Commission that takes the decision. No one else. We have the money, we have the power and we intend to use both. That puts us in a great position of power but also gives us a great deal of responsibility. We are not shying away from that. We are conscious that we have to get it right.”

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