World Economy

European Airlines Push for Merger

European Airlines Push for MergerEuropean Airlines Push for Merger

Airlines urged the European Union (EU) to press ahead with plans to merge national air corridors, rekindling debate about a reform that risks confrontation with air traffic controllers over safety and jobs.

The call came as EU transport ministers gathered in Rome for informal talks to try to accelerate a plan to integrate some of the world’s most crowded airways, which has drifted since the so-called Single European Sky scheme was launched a decade ago, Reuters reported.

A group representing 30 European airlines has written to the EU’s 28 nations urging them to end a deadlock which it blames on a “lack of political will.”

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) says streamlining Europe’s jigsaw of national air corridors would save airlines $3.7 billion (3 billion euro) a year and consumers another $7.4 billion.

Under the current system, responsibility for airspace belongs to each country, which usually manages its flight paths and charges navigation and terminal fees, estimated by the Eurocontrol air traffic agency at some 8 billion euro a year.

The Single European Sky proposal calls for airspace to be arranged in trans-national “blocks” in what is seen as the most radical shake-up of European’s aviation system for decades and a precursor to greater automation.

“After 10 years there has been almost zero progress,” Mildred Troegeler, the AEA’s head of operations, told Reuters.

“This would bring huge benefits to consumers and the environment, including 8 million tons fewer CO2 emissions. Consumers are suffering 11 million minutes of unnecessary flight delays every year,” she said in an interview.

Airlines say the European Sky scheme would allow them to plan more direct routes and make large savings in time, fuel and emissions. They contrast the slow progress in redrawing Europe’s aviation map with the borderless Schengen Area of 26 nations.

The proposals have led to strikes by some of Europe’s 14,000 air traffic controllers, especially in France where union leaders say it is a cost-cutting exercise and would harm safety. Airlines insist safety would actually increase under the plan.

Although the US has more flights per day, the density of traffic in some of Europe’s airways is among the highest in the world, according to air traffic controllers.

Critics among EU member nations say the latest version of the scheme, known as SES 2+, is based on over-optimistic traffic forecasts and could lead to over-regulation.