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European aviation has been confronted with serious capacity challenges and high levels of delay, in particular, during the two years (2018-2019) leading up to the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic has, subsequently, revealed that the European airspace system lacks resilience and the ability to absorb demand shocks, be these in the form of increases or drops in air traffic. Despite the economic hardship sustained by the entire aviation ecosystem, it has become clear that the European Commission’s level of climate ambition remains unchanged. In fact, the recovery phase has been framed as an opportunity to accelerate the shift towards a more sustainable, smarter and resilient mobility system. The European Green Deal identifies the Single European Sky (SES) as one of the key measures to “help achieve significant reductions in aviation emissions”. To ensure the sustainable development of the sector, the SES reform will stimulate a more flexible and scalable provision of air navigation services.

There is firm agreement within the aviation sector, that air traffic management (ATM) in Europe needs to be reformed to cope with both the sustained air traffic growth over the last decade and with significant, unforeseen traffic variations, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This, in turn, calls for regulatory changes that promote a safe, cost- and flight-efficient European ATM system that will support the measures outlined in the European Green Deal and reduce aviation emissions. Once the pandemic is contained, it will be even more crucial to increase resilience, scalability and sustainability in the management of manned and unmanned air traffic.

In view of this, in September 2020, the European Commission proposed an upgrade of the SES regulatory framework, in order to modernise the management of European airspace and to establish more sustainable and efficient flightpaths. The amended proposal calls for the strengthening of the European network and its management to avoid congestion and suboptimal flight routes, the creation of an EU market for agile ATM data services provision and incentives, the streamlining of economic regulation for ATM, and for an enhanced coordination for the definition, development and deployment of innovative solutions, among others.

Building upon the conclusions of the 12th Florence Air Forum on ‘How to make progress towards an Economic Regulator?’, the 15th Florence Air Forum, jointly hosted by the Transport Area of the Florence School of Regulation and the European Commission’s DG MOVE, will provide a platform for in-depth discussion on some of the central elements of the proposed SES regulatory framework pertaining to the streamlining of economic regulation for ATM.

More specifically, the Forum will bring together key aviation actors to explore 1) the institutional integration of the Performance Review Body into EASA and the implications for the new distribution of tasks in relation to national economic regulators; 2) the strengthening of National Supervisory Authorities (NSAs) and the separation of economic and safety oversight tasks; and not the least 3) the legal, technical and practical considerations surrounding the proposed modulation of air navigation charges on the basis of the environmental footprint of the airspace user. While the negotiations between the EU Member States and the European Parliament on the SES proposal basic act is still ongoing, the discussions at the 15th Florence Air Forum will already address some of the more detailed and technical provisions, which also seek to inform the subsequent implementing and delegated acts.


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