Central Europe’s airspace, totaling 1,713,442 km2, has one of the highest traffic densities in the world. Currently this area handles about 6 million flights a year, both civil and military, which equates to 55% of all European air traffic. By 2018 the number of flights for this area is forecasted to go up to about 8 million flights a year. During a flight, air traffic has to deal with numerous national air traffic control systems and some 410 military no-go air space areas. Europe as a whole has over 650 air traffic sectors which are controlled from 50 en route units or air traffic control centres. In practice this means that air traffic has to zig-zag its way to its destination, which as a consequence extends flight distance and duration and raises fuel consumption, costing airlines about €1 billion a year and burning 12% more CO2.

Although having much older roots, the European Commission took the initiative in 2004 to restructure the European airspace by launching the Single European Sky (SES) programme. The backbone of the programme consists of dividing up the European airspace in functional airspace blocks (FABs) extending over several countries by integrating national air traffic control systems and unifying sets of air traffic control rules. Because air traffic flows will no longer be constrained by national borders greater efficiency is attained in the use of European airspace with many beneficial effects in other policy areas. The aim of the European Commission is to have all FABs operational by 2012. But in all probability this aim will not be met because of national security risk concerns and resistance of air traffic controllers’ unions.

After a feasibility study on a Central European FAB (FABEC) carried out in 2008 in which it showed that improved air traffic management in the area could handle a 50 per cent increase in air traffic volume by 2018 at the same high level of safety and considerable CO2 emission reductions, with a potential benefit for airspace users of € 7,000 million by 2025, several Central European countries have taken matters in their own hands. In the same year the six States of Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands (FABEC States) signed a Declaration of Intent with Annex to commit themselves to build a functional airspace block. A treaty containing the main institutional framework for the construction and implementation of FABEC was drawn up and scheduled to be in force by 2012. Owing to its size and central position in Europe, the FABEC will form a cornerstone of the SES programme.

On 2 December 2010, the Treaty relating to the Establishment of the Functional Airspace Block Europe Central setting up a common airspace at the heart of Europe and to organize air traffic management irrespective of national borders will be signed during a ceremony with a joint press conference in Bruxelles. Once in force and operational the Treaty will be of benefit to airlines, travellers and last but not the least, the environment.


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