When it’s not covered with clouds of volcanic ash, Europe’s airspace looks like it is covered by a swarm of insects. Around 30 thousand aircraft a day nagivate the region’s air corridors, guided by air traffic control authorities in each country.
Eurocontrol was created in 1963, to unify and harmonise aircraft navigation in Europe. The inter-governmental organisation has 38 members and is involved in dozens of projects aimed at improving the management of air traffic, which continues to increase.
Eurocontrol is a focal point for flight management all over Europe and regulates all traffic. But its power is limited because each member state has responsibility for its own airspace.
That means the sky over Europe is divided into 27 sectors, and is controlled by 73 separate centres for air traffic control.
The Eurocontrol centre in Maastricht is the only one operational and controls the upper air space above Belgium, Luxembourg and a part of Germany.
Its an example of what the EU’s “One Sky” project could eventually lead to. The plans have been on the Brussels drawing board since 1999 and are advancing at a crawl.
The idea is that one zone will handle the air traffic control for the 27 different countries.
In 2008 the sky was divided into nine separate blocks of air space, with the aim being a better handling of increasing air traffic, and a reduction in costs.
The volcanic ash cloud has shed light on the lack of european coordination over flights and could speed up the introduction of the “one sky” project, initially planned for 2012.