Nikolaus Herrmann

  • Business Portrait 2014

    Business Portrait 2014

    Nikolaus Herrmann is the Director of the German Federal Supervisory Authority for Air Navigation Services (Bundesaufsichtsamt für Flugsicherung) and has been so since the foundation of the authority in 2009. For almost a decade, he had been lecturer and professor at the College for Public Administration in Meissen, Germany. His teaching experience extends to other academic institutions in Germany and the UK, in particular the University of East Anglia where he taught German Law and Language in 1988 – 1991. Work experience include posts at the Hessian Ministry of Transport in Wiesbaden, Germany, the Saxonian Ministry for Environment in Dresden, Germany, and at an international law firm. He has published in the fields of aviation, planning, environmental and European law.




    The Single European Sky – Concepts, Assumptions and Legends


    Key words: Single European Sky; Air Navigation; Air Traffic Management; Performance; Air space capacity; User charges

    The Single European Sky (SES) initiative has started as a reaction to the heavy delays the European aviation has experienced in the 1990 years. The European Commission, based on the work of a High Level Group set up to examine the relevant issues, came to the conclusion that the main cause of this delay situation was the fragmentation of the European airspace.

    With traffic forecasts indicating a steady increase of traffic leading to duplication by 2025, a sharp rise of delay figures was foreseen. To avoid a “capacity crunch”, a defragmented Single European Sky was to be created.

    Four “high level goals” were established:

    • Enable a 3-fold increase in capacity which will also reduce delays, both on the ground and in the air;
    • Improve the safety performance by a factor of 10;
    • Enable a 10% reduction in the effects flights have on the environment and;
    • Provide ATM services to the airspace users at a cost of at least 50% less.


    As it is well known, the traffic growth has not materialised. But as with all prognostic assumptions, future developments do not make the initial prognosis false or invalid. The may only call for adaptions.

    However, some other assumptions require a critical review:

    • Airspace fragmentation

    The fragmentation of the European ANS system is generally recognised as leading to inefficiencies, and in particular to costs deemed too high. But the map of Europe with all the FIRs that is usually presented in this context does not provide an adequate description of the problem. From an operational perspective, it is not the FIRs, i.e. the – usually national – areas of responsibility of the different ANS providers, that are relevant. Operations are conducted on the basis of sectors, each with different controllers and with different radio frequencies for voice communication. And there are more than 20 times more sectors than ANSPs.

    So, fragmentation on the operational ATC level is much more a technical issue. The operational necessity of handing over of an aircraft from one sector to another several times during a flight should represent a seamless service for the airspace user. Uniform standards for procedures and equipment, i.e. their interoperability, are crucial for meeting this requirement. Future developments with a new information landscape – SWIM – and other operational concepts based on new technology (sectorless operations with 4D trajectories) have thus the potential to reduce the impact of fragmentation on the system performance without any institutional change.

    Still, FIR boundaries and thus sectorisation along national borders are doubtlessly suboptimal for efficient operations. But functional airspace blocks (FABs) have not turned out to be the solution of choice. Bilateral agreements for cross-border sectorisation remain a simpler alternative.

    • Civil-military cooperation

    Fragmentation of the airspace has also another dimension, and not along the lines of national borders. Direct flight routes are often not possible due to the airspace structure within the EU member states themselves, in particular due to airspace reserved for military activities. The concept of Flexible Use of Airspace that aims at balancing civil and military airspace requirement, but its application throughout the European Union gives a mixed picture.

    • Delays and airspace capacity

    Airspace capacity is usually expressed by delay times. The indicator used to express performance in the area of capacity is the average delay per flight. Economically, very low targets for average delay most likely incentivise misallocations, as marginal costs increase exponentially while marginal utility is tending to decrease. Operationally, from a gate-to-gate perspective, average ATFM delay below a certain threshold loses significance when aircraft operations contain buffers of at least several minutes. And for 4D operations, minimising delay is crucial, but it is exact timing that matters, not averages.

    • Cost reduction

    The main reason given for the goal of ANS cost reduction is the assumption that ANSPs charge monopoly prices that are, by definition, too high. There can be no doubt that air traffic control services have, within in defined airspace, a monopoly position, based in the current technical and operational environment on safety reasons. But ANS has, so far, never been a “business” that has been free to set monopoly prices, but rather a public service with limitations to entrepreneurial decisions even if set up as a private law corporation. This cast some doubt on the application of the usual set of instruments for monopoly control.