The European Union unveiled Tuesday controversial plans for its decade-old dream of a single airspace, despite a strike by air traffic controllers in France and plans for protests in several countries.
The plans include fines for member states that fail to meet targets for the creation of a "Single European Sky", a scheme that Brussels says will cut costs, reduce pollution and increase safety.
Unions say the plans will lead to job losses and affect work conditions while France -- where hundreds of flights were cancelled due to the strike on Tuesday -- and Germany expressed doubts.
But EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, revealing the details of the plan at the European Parliament, said the "ambitious reforms" would reduce congestion in European airspace.
"It is like one of those mirages in the desert -- each time you get closer it seems to move further away. We think the time has come to take more decisive action on behalf of Europe's air transport customers and airlines," Kallas said.
"If we leave things as we are we will be confronted with heavy congestion and chaos in our airspace," he added.
The proposals by the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- must be approved by all 27 member states and the European Parliament before becoming law.
Brussels said it would have greater powers to set air traffic control performance targets for member states "and enable sanctions to be applied when targets are not met."
The plans also include creating separate, independent bodies to oversee air traffic authorities.
The Commission laid the blame for delays in creating a single airspace with member states, saying that many had fallen "significantly short of the overall level of ambition."
French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said in a statement that he and his German counterpart Peter Ramsauer had written to Kallas setting out their "reservations" about the plans.
"France does not support the new European Commission plan," he said.
Around 1,800 flights were cancelled in France Tuesday due to the three-day strike.
Separately controllers in 11 countries will stage protests on Wednesday, such as working to rule, the European Transport Workers' Federation said.
The EU says the single sky plan could triple its airspace capacity, improve safety ten-fold, reduce pollution by 10 percent and cut air traffic management costs by 50 percent.
Fragmented country-by-country air control costs close to five billion euros ($6.6 billion) a year to airlines and passengers, adding 42 kilometres (26 miles) to the distance of an average flight, thus also harming the environment and causing delays.
The United States controls the same amount of airspace with more traffic at almost half the cost.
The International Air Carrier Association welcomed the proposals but called for more action.
"Today's proposal is yet another attempt to reform the system but it doesn't go nearly far enough," said IACA director general Sylviane Lust.
by Marianne Barriaux © 2013 AFP
Date: Jun 11, 2013