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PRB says states need to revise plans

The Performance Review Body (PRB) of the Single European Sky (SES) has published a report on the assessment of the performance plans submitted by member states for the current regulatory period (2020–2024). The report contains the recommendations of the PRB to the European Commission on whether or not to approve the performance plans.

The PRB has concluded that most of the member states should revise their plans because their targets are not consistent with the Union-wide targets. At Union-wide level, states plan to miss the environmental targets, do not provide sufficient capacity and ask for substantially more money. Except for Czech Republic, Finland, Slovenia and Slovakia, all EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland should revise their plans.

As observed in the past two years, the problems and the solutions to the current inefficiencies remain the same. A few underperforming area control centres in the middle of Europe impact the overall performance, counteracting the efforts of states that have submitted solid plans. If the air navigation service providers in the core of Europe performed like their best-performing peers, targets would be met. 

The submitted performance plans indicate various issues of concern: 

  • Member states will not meet environmental targets. Aviation is under severe pressure to improve its environmental performance and air traffic management must contribute to  reducing the CO2 output of aviation. 
  • There is a lack of projects to introduce fundamental structural changes during the third reference period with only a few planning for increased cross-border co-operation. The submitted plans will not decrease fragmentation. 
  • Air navigation service providers are asking for large amounts of additional money, mostly to add more air traffic controllers (plus 2,700 (net) throughout the third reference period). While certain area control centres will need additional controllers to manage capacity, the PRB is concerned about the scale of the planned increase. In many cases, it will delay the urgently-needed modernisation of air traffic management. Member states should also be supportive of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s plan to further harmonise the licencing requirements for air traffic controllers. 
  • The submitted performance plans indicate that many member states want to invest in infrastructure, which will not have a direct impact on performance. Member states, both in their capacity as owners of the service providers and as National Supervisory Authorities, need to continue to ensure that the investments planned by their service providers deliver tangible benefits and are consistent with the European ATM Master Plan to reach the Single European Sky performance objectives.   

The current traffic forecast for European aviation shows that the expected growth of flight movements during the third reference period will be lower than during the previous reference period. Member states and their air navigation service providers will have to be vigilant and plan how to cope with the expected change. Air navigation service providers need to be able to adapt to changing traffic demand.  

The scrutiny the PRB has applied when assessing the performance plans should not imply that the PRB recommends the Commission to deal with every issue and to micro-manage air traffic management. The thorough assessment should foremost support the National Supervisory Authorities to identify issues, providing guidance on what they can request from the service providers. As an example, there is no justification for excessive cost of capital as asked for with the current plans that would lead to around 500 million € of extra cost for airspace users without any added value for them.  

Next steps

The European Commission has published its draft decision, informing EU member states (plus Norway and Switzerland) that they have to revise their performance plans and why. On 23–24 March 2020, the Single Sky Committee, that is, representatives from member states, will convene in Brussels to (hopefully) adopt this decision. Thereafter, the member states have three months to submit a revised performance plan. The PRB has elaborated Factbooks analysing each performance plan in detail. These Factbooks are available through the ESSKY website. They will identify the issues which need to be revised.

Airlines are encouraged to engage in elaborating the revised performance plans. Their input will be crucial to shape the European air traffic management in the coming years.