Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Single European Sky or Single European Snail? EU Commission sends letters of formal notice to 18 States to accelerate implementation of common airspace management

The EU Commission has sent letters of formal notice, i.e. official requests for explanations, to 18 EU Member States (MS) regarding the long delay in the implementation of the Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) established under the Single European Sky initiative (SES). A letter of formal notice under the EU law is the first step of the EU law infringement procedure against MS.

Under the SES, Member States have i.a. to establish through State agreements Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), which are cross-border common airspace segments arranged around traffic flows. A FAB sets the airspace of more than one States under common operational control, without affecting national sovereignty. As a result, the European airspace has been divided into nine FABs. The establishment of FABs aims at improving air traffic flows within the EU and increasing capacity, while saving costs and flight time.

Despite the industry’s support to the SES initiative, its implementation has been very slow owing to national security sensitivities and employment concerns as to air traffic controllers. According to Regulation (EC) No 550/2004, all FABs should have been operational by 4 December 2012. Nevertheless, six FABs are not operational yet [FABCE (Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia), BLUEMED FAB (Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta), DANUBE FAB (Bulgaria and Romania), BALTIC FAB (Lithuania and Poland), SOUTHWEST FAB (Spain and Portugal), and the UK/IRELAND FAB], including one (BLUEMED FAB), in which the formal establishment procedures have not been yet concluded.

Therefore, the EU Commission has sent these MS letters of formal request, which are an official invitation to provide explanations for the delay and constitute the first step in the EU law infringement procedure against them. MS must reply within two months. If the Commission is not satisfied with the explanations provided, it will continue the infringement procedure by sending a Reasoned Opinion, i.e. a last call to the MS to abide by the EU law requirements. In case of failure of the MS, the Commission may refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU for a fine to be imposed (Art. 258 TFEU).

See the EU Commission’s press release here.

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