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Cheaper, shorter European flights under new law

STRASBOURG – EU lawmakers agreed Wednesday on a bill calling for shorter, cheaper flights in Europe using up to 11 percent less fuel and setting binding targets for the continent’s aviation system.

The new rules are set to be rubber-stamped by EU transport ministers within days so that the legislation can enter into force throughout Europe before the summer.

Under the measures, part of the EU’s "single European skies" project launched in 2002, member states must use incentives and sanctions to prompt airlines and airports to meet the targets.

Brussels judges that better organisation and harmonisation of air traffic control could knock eight to 14 minutes off flights within Europe, while using seven to 11 percent less fuel.

At the same time "16 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide will be released in to the atmosphere each year," EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani said.

Eurocontrol, a European intergovernmental organisation, will monitor the results to see if the targets are met.

EU nations will retain the right to ban certain flights from entering their airspace.

One of the key measures is the setting up of Functional Airspace Blocks – airspace blocks based on operational requirements regardless of national boundaries.

International flights currently have to pass through a mosaic of national air traffic control zones, being handed over from one national authority to another, a system which can cause bottlenecks and delays, using extra fuel.

Some such blocks already exist, the biggest being France, Germany and the three Benelux nations, but the legislation will make such systems obligatory from 2012.

Old air navigation technology will be replaced by the state-of-the-art SESAR (Single European Sky Air traffic management Research) system, currently in development.

Also the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), originally limited to ensuring the airworthiness of aircraft, will see its powers extended to ensure "precise, uniform and binding rules for airport safety, air traffic management and air navigation services."

EASA will establish harmonised rules on Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems and Air Navigation Services (ANS), to improve aviation safety in a context of sharply rising traffic and increasing numbers of air routes.

The EU sees such modernisation and harmonisation as key as European air traffic could double by 2020.

At present EU airports deal with 28,000 flights per day by 4,700 commercial companies.

AFP / Expatica