Regulation 551/2004 - Organisation and Use of the Airspace in SES

Regulation 551/2004 - Organisation and Use of the Airspace in SES

Regulation (EC) No 551/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2004 on the organisation and use of the airspace in the Single European Sky - text published in the Official Journal of the European Union


The objective of the Airspace regulation is to put an end to the fragmentation of European Union (EU) airspace and to create an efficient and safe airspace without frontiers. The organisation and management of airspace shoud be improved by merging all the national flight information regions (FIRs) into a single portion of airspace within which air traffic services will be provided according to the same rules and procedures.


The Airspace regulation forms part of the first package of legislation on air traffic management designed to create a Single European Sky (SES). This objective will make for improved safety, optimum use of European airspace, reduced air traffic delays and sustainable air transport growth.

The first Single Sky legilative package includes another three regulations laying down the framework for the creation of the single European sky (The Framework regulation), the Common requirements for the provision of air navigation services (SPR) and the interoperability of the European air traffic management network (The Interoperability regulation).


Establishement of European Upper Flight Information Region (EUIR)

Under the Chicago Convention, the concept of Flight Information Regions (FIRs) defines homogenous regions of airspace, which should efficiently cover air route structures. Up to now, air frontiers have been fixed by reference to land and sea frontiers. Against this background International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommends that the delineation of internal airspace should be related to the need for efficient service rather than to national boundaries.

Accordingly, the Single European Sky arrangements provide for a single European Upper Flight Information Region (EUIR). The EUIR encompasses the upper airspace falling under the responsibility of the EU Member States and, where appropriate, will include adjacent airspace of European countries that are not EU members. Upper airspace is the space above a specific flight level, dedicated to overflight, and lower airspace is the space below that flight level, dedicated to airport approaches.

The creation of a single FIR in upper airspace will enable this airspace to be reconfigured into delimited control areas without regard to national frontiers, thereby ensuring the more efficient use of airspace, systems and personnel.

To harmonise aeronautical information within the area of the EUIR, steps need to be taken to ensure the creation of a single source for the publication of such information, taking account of relevant ICAO requirements.

Reconfiguration of Upper Airspace

Airspace need to be reconfigured on the basis of optimum control areas in terms of operational efficiency, regardless of national frontiers.

Under the regulation, the division level between upper and lower airspace is set at flight level 285 (8 700 metres). To achieving maximum capacity and efficiency of the ATM network, the upper airspace will be reconfigured into functional airspace blocks (FAB). An airspace block is the airspace having the dimensions defined in space and in time, within which air navigation services are provided.

The creation and modification of FABs will be a matter for the Member States concerned. States may request technical advice from EUROCONTROL.

Where Member States experience difficulties in reaching agreement on a cross-border FAB, they may bring the matter before the Single Sky Committee for an opinion.

The FABs are intended to:

  • Enable air traffic control to operate efficiently at present and in future;
  • Ensure that each airspace block is designed to maximise the efficiency of European airspace as a whole;
  • Minimise the number of times air traffic control has to be handed over when an aircraft passes from one area control centre to the next;
  • Ensure consistency between the configurations of upper and lower airspace.

In consultation with EUROCONTROL, the European Commission will then decide the criteria for organising the airspace into a minimum number of cross-border air traffic control areas.

Optimised Route and Sector Design in the Upper Airspace

Common principles and criteria for route and sector design will be established to ensure the safe, economically efficient and environmentally friendly use of airspace. Sector design shall be coherent with route design.

Flexible Use of Airspace

As regards the use of airspace for military purposes, it is recommended to adopt criteria permitting the application, first in upper airspace and then in lower airspace, of the concept of flexible use of airspace, as devised by EUROCONTROL. The Member States and EUROCONTROL should take appropriate measures to ensure uniform application of the provisions governing civil-military air traffic service provision.

Coordination will be increased between the civilian and military authorities, in particular for the allocation and efficient use of airspace for military purposes, including the criteria and principles which should govern allocation and use, and in particular access for civilian flights.

In December 2005 the European Commission adopted a Regulation (EC) No 2150/2005 laying down common rules for the flexible use of airspace (FUA).


A clause will enable the Member States to request the suspension of the application of the Community rules in the event of conflict with national military requirements.

SES II Amendment to the Regulation

In order to improve the freedom of movement within European community airspace, the optimum use of scarce resources and the effectiveness of European air traffic management, the Airspace regulation was amended by Regulation (EC) No 1070/2009 of 14 November 2009.

Of particular importance are the changes related to:

  • New article 3a - “Electronic aeronautical publication”: The Commission shall adopt a detailed implementing rule to ensure the development of an electronic integrated briefing portal with Community-wide coverage and unrestricted access to interested stakeholders. That portal shall integrate access to and provision of aeronautical information, air traffic services reporting office (ARO) information, meteorological information, flow management information and other required data elements.
  • Article 4 - “Rules of the air and airspace classification”: The Commission shall adopt implementing rules in order to adopt “rules of the air” based on International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and recommended practices and to harmonise the application of ICAO airspace classification in Europe.
  • Article 5 - “Reconfiguration of the upper airspace” (see above) has been deleted. Provisions on the establishment of FABs have been included in the amended Service provision regulation (EC No 550/2004).
  • Article 6 - “Network management and design”: The ATM network functions shall allow optimum use of airspace and shall include design of the European route network and coordination of scarce resources within aviation frequency bands used by general air traffic, in particular radio frequencies and radar transponder codes. Such network functions, including ATFM, may be entrusted to EUROCONTROL, or another impartial and competent body. The Commission may add to the list of network functions after proper consultation of industry stakeholders. It may adopt implementing rules in order to ensure impartial and efficient management and design of European ATM network. The implementing rules for air traffic flow management shall support operational decisions by ANSPs, airport operators and airspace users, and shall cover flight planning, use of routings and available airspace capacity during all phases of flight, including slot assignment.

Regulation (EC) No 551/2004 on the organisation and use of the airspace in the Single European Sky - consolidated text

Further Reading

European Commission


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