SES2+ and the future of European ATM (Part 3)

Written by: Gavin Fourie
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In my previous blog I discussed the need for further changes in ATM institutions, specifically the need for more reform in terms of reducing costs and ATM inefficiencies across Europe.

The EU's response to these issues is a recast of the current Single European Sky legislation, more commonly known as SES2+. The SES2+ proposals were initially published by the European Commission in June 2013. The European Parliament moved quickly and passed their resolutions and amendments in March this year. The Council of the EU has been slower to act, but since the Italian presidency of the Council started in July, a renewed sense of urgency has accelerated the work. A general agreement by the Council is expected by Christmas, with adoption by the Council anticipated under the Latvian presidency in early 2015. It remains to be seen if the Parliament and Council text will be close enough for the Commission to find a compromise and avoid another time-consuming round of amendments. But what is in the SES2+ proposals and will it improve European ATM?

SES2+ focusses on 7 main areas:

1. Independence and resources of National Supervisory authorities (NSAs)

SES2+ seeks to provide NSAs with additional support through Europe-level co-operation and pooling of resources, whilst finalising the move towards true independence by requiring full organisational and budgetary separation from ANSPs. There are also some more controversial elements limiting the movement of staff between ANSPs and NSAs (a challenge that many other industries also face).

2. Support services

Currently all ATM services are provided by the monopoly ANSP, and not subject to public procurement rules. SES2+ requires that support services (including communications, navigation, and surveillance) are publicly competed with the best provider of these services being selected.

3. Customer focus

Airspace user groups are to be given a role in signing off major investment plans, with ANSPs required to improve consultation with airspace users.

4. Performance scheme and the Performance Review Body (PRB)

The PRB is not judged to be sufficiently independent both from EUROCONTROL and Member States. SES2+ aims to strengthen the performance scheme by increasing the role of the Commission and making the PRB more independent from Member States.

5. Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs)

FABs are being reorganised to give them more flexibility in the way they interact, both within and between FABs. Specifically ANSPs will be better able to form partnerships beyond the FAB boundary, leading to a more industry led and flexible arrangement. The Commission will take a more hands-off approach as to how FABs are managed, provided the FAB meets its increasingly stringent performance targets (though it must be said that the targets have been rather unambitious to date).

This industrial partnership approach is already taking shape, with a number of ANSPs partnering to jointly procure systems or to provide common services for their mutual benefit. Examples of such cooperation include the Borealis Alliance of northern European ANSPs and COOPANS (a cooperative procurement programme upgrading and harmonising the systems of the Swedish, Irish, Austrian, Croatian, and Danish ANSPs). It is encouraging that regulations are now catching up and looking to support like-minded companies that are cooperating to provide a more efficient or improved service.

6. Network Manager

The role of the Network Manager will be more clearly set out, with industry given a greater say in its governance. SES2+ will allow the development of EUROCONTROL's proposed centralised services.

7. EASA, EUROCONTROL and the institutional framework

The process of moving technical rule-making and oversight from EUROCONTROL to EASA will be finalised. EUROCONTROL will focus on operational issues (such as the Network Manager), EASA will be responsible for rule-making and safety oversight, and the Commission will be in charge of economic regulation.

So will SES2+ improve the efficiency of European ATM? It will depend upon whether the performance scheme delivers improvements and whether competition helps to lower costs.

The European Parliament wants to soften the requirements for outsourcing of support services, and the Council is likely to be even more moderate on this issue. This leaves the performance scheme as the main route to improved cost effectiveness. The European Parliament's amendments support the replacement of the PRB by an independent economic regulator, a stance strongly advocated by the airspace users paying for ANS services. The attitude of Member States on the Council remains to be seen. If stronger economic regulation and a more flexible attitude to service delivery is all that SES2+ achieves, it will have made some progress. It will be up to the industry to determine how to meet the (hopefully) more ambitious performance targets.

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