Lessons from SESAR based on a European Court of Auditors’ Report

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Fragmentation still crippling €3.8 billion bid for Single Skies: EU auditors call for R&D solutions

Auditors’ Report identifies parallel results

Good to know that NextGen’s Challenges not Unique


America has benefited from its strong internal market and consequently an introspective perspective has been adequate. Today’s global economy and markets provide platforms for comparisons. The EU’s SESAR and the FAA’s NextGen are comparable endeavors, especially as to landmass (the United States is 9,833,000 square kilometers while Europe is 10,180,000 square kilometers).

Institutionally, the Continent and the US are both endowed with similar institutions—the FAA and the GAO; EASA: SESAR and the European Court of Auditors.

ECA GAO logo

ECA recently reviewed the status of SESAR. That joint venture has an additional challenge of defragmenting the national bordered ATC sectors, but the European revision from a balkanized, old technologies to a single start-of-the-art system. The below summary of the Report  does not reference the multi-governmental issues; here are quotes about the most relevant subjects:

  • The performance and charging schemes aim at mitigating the negative effects of a monopolistic service provision by establishing binding targets and establishing common rules for the charging of costs to airspace users[1]. They have fostered a culture of efficiency and transparency at the level of air navigation service providers (ANSPs). However, the quantitative results fell below expectations: delays have generally been above the targets set in performance plans and, despite reaching a record low in 2013, have been increasing since; unit rates paid by airspace users are heavily dependent on traffic volumes and have only decreased by 4 % between 2011 and 2016, which is below the EU-wide reduction set by the Commission.
  • The process of adopting targets for the performance scheme is lengthy and complex. Reaching agreements between the Commission and Member States has proved to be difficult, particularly in the areas of capacity and cost-efficiency. In addition, some indicators used to measure ATM performance contain shortcomings as they do not capture relevant aspects of that performance.
  • SESAR’s definition and development phases promoted the commitment of key stakeholders to a common technological plan and its development phase transformed a previously fragmented R&D environment into a coordinated one. The SESAR JU has been gradually releasing technological and operational improvements, packaged under a number of “SESAR Solutions”. However, the EU’s role in the project has evolved from its original inception as regards scope, timeframe and financial magnitude, all of which have been significantly extended. The SESAR project now pursues an open-ended, continuously evolving R&D vision which is not aligned with the regulatory framework that governs the SESAR Joint Undertaking. This misalignment impacts negatively on the accountability of the Joint Undertaking. As of 2016, only a small part of the Master Plan in-place had actually been executed and SESAR performance ambitions were re-set for 2035, not 2020 as originally envisaged. In addition, individual R&D projects were launched without the support of a specific cost benefit analysis demonstrating their added value.


From a financial perspective, it is noteworthy that ECA stated that

EU funding for the technological elements of SES has so far reached €730 million and is due to grow to €3.8 billion by 2020 (~$4,502,050,000.00)

and the GAO’s (GAO-17-241R, Next Generation Air Transportation System …www.gao.gov/assets/690/681111.pdf ) most recent estimate is

…while the aviation industry’s estimated cost was $15 billion, for a total of $28.6 billion. FAA’s most recent estimate projects NextGen costs of $14.8 billion from fiscal year 2015 to 2030.Nov 17, 2016.


Rather than a comparison of apples and oranges, the SESAR and NextGen analogy may be closer to the differences between oranges and nectarines. It is good to know that other technology transformation projects have problems.


[1] This observation is more relevant to the ATC Privatization debate.

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