In this latest policy brief, we reflect on the future of economic regulation in Air Traffic Management (ATM) in order to tackle key issues faced by the sector. While the Third Reference Period (RP3) preparations are underway and performance targets have already been defined for that period, the 12thFlorence Air Forum, which took place in Budapest, aimed at planning the time after RP3, by exploring the possibility to improve the economic regulation and to move towards an economic regulator of ATM.
More specifically, this policy brief seeks to provide answers the following three critical questions:
- Balance sheet of performance and charging scheme so far: What are the main weaknesses and why do we need to move to an economic regulator for ATM?
- Economic regulation of monopolies: What can we learn from other infrastructure sectors?
- How to set up an economic regulator organisationally?
Improving air traffic management performance is the main goal of the Single European Sky (SES) initiative. The EU’s SES legislation has introduced a performance scheme, which defines performance targets in the key performance areas of safety, environment, airspace capacity and cost-efficiency through the adoption of Union-wide performance targets and approval of binding National or Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB)-level performance targets. It is through this scheme that monopoly air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are currently “regulated” in Europe.
To assist the Commission and the national supervisory authorities in the implementation of the performance scheme for air navigation services, the Commission first designated in 2010 the Performance Review Commission of Eurocontrol (PRC) as the Performance Review Body (PRB) of the Single European Sky. Since 2017 the PRB acts as an independent group of experts.
The task of the PRB is to monitor the performance of ANSPs and to provide recommendations to the Commission on target setting and monitoring. In February 2019 the PRB published its final recommendations for the Union-wide performance targets in air navigation services for the RP3 (2020-2024). These targets relate to the improvement of flight punctuality, encouragement of more efficient flight paths so as to reduce the environmental impact of air traffic, and the cost reduction of service provision to the benefit of airlines and passengers, while ensuring the highest safety standards. Following this recommendation, the Commission’s Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/903 setting the Union-wide performance targets for the ATM network for RP3 was adopted in May 2019.
During the consultations and preparations organised ahead of RP3, it became apparent that the revision of the rules for RP3 could be only limited in scope, focusing in particular on simplifying and clarifying the legal provisions. What is more, therecent Report of the Wise Persons Group on the Future of the Single European Skyrecommends the establishment of a “strong, independent and technically competent economic regulator at the European level”, stressing that a strengthening of economic regulation at European level can help ensure better consistency in approach, also at national levels.