Single Sky makes sense


The first phase of a Single European Sky air traffic management system is being deployed this year, bringing long-term savings in costs and fuel consumption, as well as enhanced safety and operational efficiency. 

You would think that aircraft, free from the natural and manmade obstacles at ground level, would usually be able to fly in a straight line from one place to another, with the occasional deviation due to extreme weather. Your reasonable assumption would often be wrong, however.

Commercial aviation routes are often dictated by the carving-up of air space into different national and military zones, a system that was devised in the 1940s for a much lower level of traffic, in terms of both passengers and cargo. In 21st century Europe, as many as 30,000 flights might take to the skies on any single day – a figure that is anticipated to rise to 50,000 by the end of the decade - so the need for a more streamlined, logical and efficient air traffic management (ATM) framework is obvious.

In Europe at least, the Single European Sky is an initiative intended to achieve just that, as well as to maintain the levels of uncompromised safety. The initiative is based on a process known as Single European Skies ATM Research, or SESAR, that has gathered expert input from airlines and other aviation stakeholders to agree on a new arrangement.

Many benefits

Launched as an EU initiative in 2004 but first called for by Finnair and other airlines many years prior to that, SESAR is entering its deployment phase this year. The implementation is a lengthy process, involving the agreement on specific aspects by many different parties, and will not be completed until 2020. But Finnair anticipates that the targeted Single European Sky should bring many benefits.

“This will be a very welcome enhancement that can save fuel and thus mean fewer emissions, but also time and money,” says Kati Ihamäki, Finnair’s Vice President, Sustainable Development.  “This development is an important part of the environmental work being done in the aviation sector, along with operative measures, technological advances and market-based actions. It represents a crucial infrastructural improvement.”

The centralization of air traffic management across Europe would mean shorter, more direct air routes, doing away with, or at least harmonizing, obstructive national restrictions. This ought to be good news for customers, including cargo customers, since it will help airlines to optimize their punctuality, although Finnair’s base, Helsinki, is already ahead of the game in this respect.

A pressing need

Aviation is a global enterprise, of course, and the need for Single Sky logic has been recognized – and is being acted on – in the USA and China. In Europe the sheer number of countries and borders in such a small geographical area makes the need for Single Sky even more pressing.

In hard figures, the anticipated benefits are clear. In addition to varying cuts in flight time of up to 15 minutes, CO2 emissions could be slashed by as much as 1575 kg per flight and 50 million tons in net total by 2030. In financial terms, European GDP could be boosted to the tune of €400 billion by 2020, creating more than 300,000 jobs.

Achieving these figures depends on SESAR being carried forward according to schedule, and that remains a vast challenge. But Kati Ihamäki believes it represents the only way forward. “We have been waiting for and urging this for more than 20 years,” she says.

Text by Tim Bird
Photo by iStockphoto

Published April 15, 2013

Category: Collaboration, Environment