EU Plans to Take Governments to Court over Delays in Airspace Rules

The European Union’s executive body threatened Tuesday to take countries to court for failing to implement new rules redrawing the bloc’s airspace, saying the delays carry are costly for both the industry and the environment.

Today was the deadline for complying with the new rules, which would merge the 30-plus airspaces over Europe into nine more manageable blocs, the European Commission said in a statement. It didn’t say how many countries had missed the deadline.

“We will take every possible action to make the Single European Sky a reality,” Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said. “There is no other option but to strongly enforce EU law.”

Mr. Kallas and his aides have repeatedly warned over the past year that EU countries aren’t doing enough to unify Europe’s airspace. The commission says the rules will greatly reduce air traffic control costs and emissions of carbon dioxide because airlines won’t have to deal with so many different systems.

Inefficiency and delays in air traffic management add roughly 5 billion euros annually to the cost of air travel in Europe, according to the commission, making the control of EU airspace twice as costly as in the U.S.

The program would also mean shorter routes, lowering CO2 emissions, important for the industry as well as the environment. The EU recently expanded its carbon market to include airlines, meaning they must now hold permits for each ton of CO2 they emit.

“We are dismayed that lack of political will by member states has stalled any hoped-for progress,” four airline associations said Tuesday in a joint statement.

“We remind member states that, together with the [European] Parliament, they themselves signed up to the Single European Sky regulation, admitting that the current highly inefficient situation is unacceptable and must be addressed urgently,” the associations said.

As the EU executive, the commission can start infringement proceedings against EU countries that fail to enforce the bloc’s laws. If the country fails to act, the commission can take the country to court and seek fines.
Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2012