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Unification of European air traffic control delayed

Nov. 28, 2011, Brussels, Bel. - A plan to make flying through European air space faster and more efficient is, wouldn't you know it, running late.


November 28, 2011
By Carey Fredericks

European Union Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said Friday that all but five of the EU's 27 countries are behind schedule in implementing targets they are obliged to meet by the end of 2014.

"There is a serious risk that critical elements will not be delivered in time,'' Kallas said at a news conference.

One of the targets is to reduce airline delays by an EU average of 30 seconds by the end of 2014. Another is to cut costs by an average of 2.4 per cent.

Called Single European Sky, the plan is to unite the 27 separate national airspaces into one large airspace with a single air traffic control system, while at the same time upgrading the technology and
increasing the capacity of the system. Kallas said air travel in the EU is projected to nearly double by 2030.

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EU officials say the benefits of the new system — to the airlines, the passengers and the environment — will be considerable.

Currently, airplanes have to zigzag through different national airspaces, avoiding those where the air traffic control system is already at capacity. Officials estimate that the new system will reduce the average flight distance inside the EU by 50 kilometres.

That will save time, fuel, money and will diminish emissions, officials say.

But EU officials fear they will lose credibility if the EU gets stuck at the gate by failing to meet its early targets. Should countries fail to meet their targets for 2014, the EU could begin legal proceedings that would compel compliance. But those proceedings are notoriously time-consuming, which is just what EU officials want to avoid.

So Kallas went public with his progress report Friday to increase political pressure on the countries that are behind schedule, the officials said.

"We are holding their feet — gently, nicely — to the flame to say, this is what you have to do to meet those targets,'' said one official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of EU rules.