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EU to Press for Unified Airspace

European Union Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas is preparing legal action against EU member countries to force faster action on a delayed program to unify the bloc’s airspace, according to a speech he will deliver Thursday.

In comments to be delivered at an EU aviation conference in Limassol, Cyprus, Mr. Kallas will threaten infringement proceedings against member states “for noncompliance” with the EU’s Single European Sky program, according to a copy of the speech, titled “10 years on and still not delivering,” seen by The Wall Street Journal.

In an infringement proceeding, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, presses a member country over failure to enforce an EU law. If the country fails to act, the commission can take the country to court and seek fines.

“We will not hesitate to act, and at this stage, it looks like infringements may well be necessary,” the speech says.

The single-sky program was adopted by the EU and all 27 members over recent years and is now being implemented but is behind schedule. Mr. Kallas and his aides have repeatedly warned over the past year that EU countries aren’t doing enough to eliminate borders in their skies, cut the cost of air-traffic management and end fragmentation in Europe’s patchwork of airspace blocks.

Inefficiency and delays in EU air-traffic management add roughly €5 billion ($6.44 billion) annually to the cost of air travel, according to Mr. Kallas’s speech. “That is an appalling waste of time and money, and puts an unnecessary burden on the environment,” the speech says.

Airlines are furious that the single-sky program is falling behind while the EU is also imposing charges on greenhouse-gas emissions from aircraft as part of the EU’s emissions-trading system. Airlines argue that their cost for emissions charges is inflated by inefficiency in airspace management, which yields circuitous routes and delays.

The single-sky plan isn’t working, said Sylviane Lust, director general of the International Air Carriers Association, a trade group in Brussels. “A big problem is the lack of compliance of big member states despite their commitments.”

Mr. Kallas will argue that states’ air-traffic-management agencies wield too much influence on their government regulators and use that to deflect pressure to merge across borders. Their power “impedes the sector consolidation that we need,” Mr. Kallas will say.
source:WP October 10, 2012