Single European Sky SES II+ proposal: another missed opportunity to improve ATM functioning

23 Sep 2020

European Transport Workers’ Federation responds to the new Single European Sky (SES II+) proposal, presented by the European Commission yesterday. Initial analysis shows that the proposal ignores countless issues that air traffic management (ATM) has been facing, and instead focuses on reducing costs of ATM services and aims to bring more competition into the sector. The proposal fails to take into account the lessons of the past and further threatens the stability of ATM systems in Europe.

During her brief presentation of the proposal yesterday, Commissioner Adina Valean insisted that the European ATM system needs to be modernised to improve aviation’s environmental track record. The contents of the proposal, however, show these statements to be hardly anything more than a window dressing and greenwashing exercise for the press.

In reality, the main guiding principle of the European Commission seems to be a reduction of costs. This is to be done by splitting Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), creating markets, and worsening working conditions of workers in air traffic management. The only possible result of this endeavour can be a creation of a “low-cost and low-level of service” ATM infrastructure at the same time. In addition to limiting the capacity of the ATM system, low-cost inevitably leads to lowering of safety standards as well.

The proposal fails to include lessons from the past and aims to further reduce the cost of the ATM infrastructure, despite increasing demand for air transport and massively understaffed ANSPs. In 2019, similar ill-designed policies resulted in artificially created airspace congestion and capacity crunches. With the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 came a sharp drop in air traffic resulting in ANSPs’ cuts in resources. This meant many ATM workers, as well as workers in training, were let go and social conditions of remaining professionals worsened even further, threatening the stability of the sector.

Both 2019 and 2020 have shown that ATM is critical infrastructure, and its stability is key for the aviation ecosystem and in turn, the whole society. ATM is not a service that can function on a market-based principle. It has a critical role, with safety as a guiding element that cannot be compromised, and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, the new SES II+ proposal fails to recognise this,” said Josef Maurer, ETF Head of Aviation and Operations.

European citizens and workers deserve better than this. The new proposal totally misses what the real issues of the sector are and what we will be facing in the coming years. With the current Commission’s approach, we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes of the past. We will see Single European Sky initiative fail again because there won’t be enough trained and skilled staff to secure stable and continuous air navigation services in the near future,” explained Charles-André Quesnel, ETF ATM Committee Chair.

The ETF does not believe that increased competition will bring a positive change in the ATM sector. Recovery of ATM, its ability to sustain employment and keep aviation up and running is essential if the aviation sector is to get back on its feet. The ATM system needs stability rather than yet another slap in the face. The safety of passengers, social and working conditions of workers in air traffic management and the overall capacity of air traffic control are in question.

The ETF calls on the Member States and the European Parliament to be bold and reject the Commission’s approach, which is detrimental not only to the ATM industry but for the aviation sector at large as well as all European citizens.