BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission launched a plan to straighten out aviation routes on Wednesday to cut fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions growth from increasing numbers of aircraft.
The EU has set itself the goal of cutting CO2 emissions by a fifth by 2020 compared with 1990, aiming to lead by example at global climate talks next year with other big emitters such as China, India and the United States.
Airlines are responsible for about 3 percent of Europe’s CO2 output and traffic is expected to double by 2020.
Aircraft waste millions of tons of fuel as they zig-zag their way between national airspaces in the 27-nation bloc.
“Look at the flight paths — it’s ridiculous,” European Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani told reporters. “Look at the costs in terms of pollution and delays.”
Simplifying the 27 airspaces to just nine is seen as a quick way of cutting fuel costs, curbing emissions growth and maintaining safety in ever more crowded skies.
The Single European Sky II package builds on a 2004 proposal that ran into opposition from EU countries over several issues including reluctance to give up national control over air space.
“The fact is the sky remains broken up into 27 different skies,” said Tajani. “The consequence is that aircraft on average fly 49 km (30 miles) more than is strictly necessary. Today we spend 10 to 15 minutes too long in our planes.”
A Commission report said the existing route from Lyon in France to Frankfurt in Germany was 40.7 percent longer than necessary, while the route from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Milan in Italy was 23 percent too long.
“This re-energizing of the Single Sky process could not come at a more crucial time for the European airline industry”, said Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines (AEA).
“Rocketing fuel prices are driving up airline costs at an alarming rate,” he added. “We cannot continue to be burdened with the huge costs of en-route inefficiency, needlessly burning fuel which is three times as expensive as it was two years ago.”
A simplified airspace could reduce emissions by 10 percent, saving about 2.4 billion euros ($3.74 billion) of wasted fuel and other costs.
The plan would include increasing airport capacity, upgrading radar technology and expanding the European Aviation Safety Agency’s power so it would also cover airports and air traffic management.
Tajani, once an air traffic controller, said the task would not be easy but that resistance was softening in Germany.
“It’s a question of overcoming the idea that national sovereignty prevails over airspace,” he said.
The AEA said the package had become more urgent because of EU plans to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme, which would increase airlines’ costs by making them buy some of their permits to pollute.
“Europe’s politicians must realize that the Single Sky is inseparable from their ambitious climate change targets”, said the AEA’s Schulte-Strathaus.
Editing by Elizabeth Piper