Over the last 20 years, the European Union’s (EU) liberalisation of the internal market for air services and the substantial growth of demand in air transport have resulted in the significant development of the European aviation sector. The number and frequency of intra-EU as well as international routes flown and the number of passengers have increased substantially.1 As a consequence, Europe has some of the busiest airspaces in the world, with an average of 33,000 flights conducted every single day. This makes Air Traffic Management (ATM) in this region an extremely complicated business.
Launched in 1999, the ‘Single European Sky’ (SES) initiative is the European Commission’s (EC) reaction to the fragmentation and incapacity of European ATM systems to sustain effectively the competitiveness needs of the Aviation sector. It has been developed on the basis of the regulations contained in two legislative packages adopted by the European Parliament in March 2004 and March 2009. The aim is to create pan-European airspace independent of national borders, to better facilitate predicted future demands of air transport industry regarding safety, capacity, efficiency and environmental improvements.
Meanwhile, defence and security matters remain under responsibility of the sovereign EU Member States.2 That is why SES is not directly applicable to the military. However, as the new European transportation policy directly impacts airspace organisation, military users’ access to airspace will be affected. Therefore, Member States must decide how they intend to align their military aviation with SES developments.3
The purpose of this article is to provide the non-expert reader with an overview of civil-military arrangements in the SES domain, challenges for military aviation, and an assessment of the recent military commitment to the overall pan-European effort.
Stakeholders in SES Development
Numerous public and private stakeholders are involved in SES development. Within this article it is impossible neither to list all of them nor to mention the complex structure into which they are mutually interwoven. However, knowledge of the following three main entities that support the EC in SES development matters is essential to an understanding of the challenges:
EASA. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was established in 2002 in order to promote the highest common standards of safety and environmental protection in civil aviation. To do so, the Agency develops common rules and standards at the European level and monitors their implementation through inspections. The Agency works hand-in-hand with the national authorities who continue to carry out many operational tasks, such as certification of individual aircraft or licensing of pilots.4 The second package of SES regulation extended the competences of EASA to ATM and thus the weight of rulemaking support has shifted from Eurocontrol to EASA.
SESARJU. The Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) is the project designed to deliver the necessary technology and operational concepts required to make pan-European ATM work in practise.5 Since 2007, SESAR participants are organised in the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SESARJU), consisting of multiple consortia and uniting a total of 70 organisations. Amongst them are a broad range of partners across the aviation community, in particular from various Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs); Airspace Users, Airport Operators, Regulators and Administrators, and the scientific community. This makes the SESARJU a truly international public-private partnership.6
EUROCONTROL. The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as EUROCONTROL, was founded in 1960 as an intergovernmental organisation working to achieve safe and seamless ATM across Europe.7 Although Eurocontrol is not an agency of the European Union, the EU has delegated to Eurocontrol parts of its SES regulation responsibilities. It therefore supports not only the EC but also EASA and National Air Navigation Service Providers in their regulatory activities and actively contributes to the SESARJU, which runs under its auspices. Furthermore, EUROCONTROL is the clear front-runner among the international organisations involved in civil-military ATM cooperation by providing a unique platform for Civil-Military ATM Coordination.8
Military Aspects in the European ATM Roadmap
On 7 December 2015, the EC adopted a new Aviation Strategy for Europe, aiming, among other top priorities, to solve the European airspace capacity, efficiency, and connectivity constraints. In this regard, the strategy stresses the importance of completing the SES project and recognises its successful implementation will depend on the willingness of all players to collaborate in a coherent and consistent manner. Civil and military authorities will have to coordinate their activities in order to reach a common understanding of the airspace and traffic environment. This is the reason for which national and international military authorities are engaged in the implementation of the aforementioned strategy.
The strategic roadmap to implement the European Aviation strategy is the European ATM Master Plan9. Resulting from a strong collaboration between all ATM stakeholders, including European militaries, the 2015 edition of the Plan outlines the vision to achieve ‘high-performing aviation for Europe’ by 2035 in full coordination with the global developments in this domain.
The Master Plan integrates the following global military performance and operational needs that frame the strategic view on the military integration within the future single European sky:10
- Maintain military mission effectiveness;
- Civil-military interoperability at the lowest cost;
- Unrestricted access to airspace through the concept of Mission Trajectory;
- Improved airspace management through Advanced Flexible Use of Airspace (AFUA);
- Recognition of equivalent performance levels of military communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) equipment, even when not civil-certified compared to civil equipment standards.
Military Concept in SESAR
SESAR aims to shift the ATM paradigm in Europe from an airspace-centric to a trajectory-centric concept, meaning air navigation services will enable aircraft to fly their preferred routes without being constrained by airspace configurations. The four-dimensional (4D) trajectory is key concept of the future ATM system being developed by SESAR.
Airspace users will agree with Air Navigation Service Providers and airport operators, from early strategic planning to the day of operations the airspace user’s preferred trajectory for the flight in four dimensions (three spatial dimensions, plus time), where the various constraints of airspace and airport capacity have been fully taken into account.
However, the ‘4D Trajectory Management’ will have to take both civil and military flight requirements into account. While civil aviation develops a trajectory with the most cost-effective routing, the military has a mission objective, prompting the most mission-effective routing and usage of the airspace. The most pragmatic solution was to develop the concept of ‘Business trajectory’ (BT) in the case of civil aviation and ‘Mission trajectory’ (MT) for military flights as single sources of reference which the airspace user agrees to fly and all the service providers agree to facilitate with their respective services. The MT is expected to provide military missions more flexibility, based on continuous sharing of information and dynamic airspace management in all stages of flight, from initial planning to the execution and post-execution phases.11
The major requirements not covered by the BT and where an MT is needed are as follows. 12
- Airspace Reservation/Restriction (ARES). It will not be possible for future 4D Trajectory management systems to process some parts of MTs (e.g. high-energy flight profiles, dynamically developed missions, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems missions and training). Therefore, the use of ARES will continue to be a main SESAR asset for high-level safety maintenance.
- Trajectory synchronisation between multiple MTs in a complex mission or exercise will be performed in planning and execution phases, so that the MTs will be addressed and prioritized in blocks.
- Military priority flights, e.g. Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) sorties in air policing, Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) or any other time- and mission-critical flights, have in common that their MTs cannot be pre-planned in accordance with BT and MT timing requirements (at least not all portions of it). Therefore they can also not be shared with the ATM system as usual.
- Confidentiality. An MT may contain flight data which, due to Operations or Information Security considerations, must not be shared with the ATM. This will be the case for the portions of the trajectory that are executed inside an ARES, either because the trajectory cannot be predicted in advance (e.g. “dynamically developed missions” for combat training) or because the ATM authorities have no need-to-know to perform their function.
- Network security. SESAR envisages net-centric computer solutions that allow all ATM stakeholders to have access to shared data and information. Whilst civil airlines will largely and openly share trajectory data for planning an efficient service at optimal costs, the exchange with military organisations shall be realized by highly secured interfaces.
Having said this, it must be noted the sharing of information on trajectories with the ATM community, from the planning to the execution and post-execution phases, is a main pillar of the MT concept. This requires both willingness to share and the deployment of the right technology, whose provision will be crucial in terms of flexibility (for the military), predictability (for the ATM network), and safety (for all airspace users).
Is Military Commitment to SES and SESAR Sufficient?
The military has been involved in SES and SESAR since their inception, both as a user and a service provider and in some cases even as a regulator. Until 1999 international civil-military cooperation in ATM was ruled by intergovernmental arrangements facilitated through guidance by Eurocontrol. Since EU has gained ATM rulemaking competences over the civil aviation and the military matters remained national responsibility, amongst the European States the new ATM solutions have been adopted based on the nature of national requirements and the peculiarities of airspace constraints. This has led to fragmented organisations, regulation, service provision, and civil-military coordination arrangements with consequent shortfalls to cross-border operations, exercises, training, and Air C2 arrangements.
Following the mandate given by the Defence Ministers of its Member States, the European Defence Agency (EDA) recently adopted the ‘SES Modalities’ proposing a comprehensive military engagement in all projects of the initiative starting from legislation, throughout research, to the deployment of technological projects, within a single interface facilitated by the EDA. The twofold goal is to advance consolidated military views from States and relevant international stakeholders to EU institutions, and to inform military planners of the requirements stemming from any civil development.13
In following this approach, the military needs to tackle two key issues: (1) Translating national sovereign requirements and joint NATO-EDA-EUMC-EUROCONTROL views into common military positions that reflect both national and collective security and defence requirements at pan-European level, which extends beyond the responsibility of EU; (2) Developing feasible concepts and operational solutions that preserve military mission effectiveness in the future European ATM environment, to include full interconnectivity between civil ATM and future military air C2 actors at all levels (but primarily at the Wing Operations Centre and below).
Currently, three military working arrangements are addressing the related work strands: (1) The Military ATM Board (MAB), enabled by EUROCONTROL, is the pan-European civil-military ATM-CNS focal point; (2) The NATO Aviation Committee (AVC), which is the advisor to the North Atlantic Council and NATO Nations on mitigating the ATM impact on collective defence capabilities; (3) The EDA-enabled SES Military Aviation Board (ESMAvB), coordinator and tasking authority for military consultation within SES.
While consultation between those working arrangements exists, synchronisation is not optimal to develop common military views. Any military position forwarded to SES policy makers will be considered as ‘A Military Position’ that does not challenge or replace an individual State’s sovereign prerogative to express its distinct national point of view. Nevertheless, it can be expected that expert influence from EU (EDA, EUMC/EUMS), EUROCONTROL and NATO staff will help frame commonly agreed military positions in the context of SES and SESAR.
Future European ATM will have to deal with a congested airspace accommodating constantly growing and sometimes volatile civil traffic flow with an increasing demand for national and cross-border military flight operations. This is why mixed civil-military operating environments will become the norm in European skies. Key to solving this complexity is a common civil-military understanding on how the future airspace shall be regulated, structured, and managed. Consequently, coherent military input is required at the earliest possible stage in all legislative and technological SES projects. The military community in Europe must overcome fragmented opinions and solutions to better cope with the requirements of the future European ATM Network as well as ensuring the interoperability demands of collective security and defence. A ‘Strategy for Military Aviation in Europe’, as suggested by EUMC in May 2016, could serve as capstone document to help achieve this. As EUMC has no ATM capacities, EDA should be mandated to coordinate the drafting of such kind of strategy.
A joint Eurocontrol-NATO-EDA support will be mandatory in order to provide appropriate subject matter expertise while agreement amongst the concerned national military authorities should be reached on the strategic level common grounds with regards to the military needs in the future single European sky.
Political support is of utmost importance to safeguard military requirements within the SES implementation process. Key to this political support is ensuring national policy and decision-makers responsible for the air transportation sector understand SES and the importance of ensuring that military operational requirements are considered in its implementation. With such political back-up complemented with a common military position at a pan-European level, it will be difficult for SES policy makers to neglect the stated military requirements.