SESAR stands for “Single European Sky ATM Research”. The SESAR project (formerly known as SESAME) is the European air traffic control infrastructure modernisation programme. SESAR aims at developing the new generation air traffic management (ATM) system capable of ensuring the safety and fluidity of air transport worldwide over the next 30 years

The Need for Technological Reform in ATM

Air traffic in Europe is expected to more than double in the next 20 years and even triple in some regions. However, the equipment used to manage the traffic flows has changed little over the past decades and is struggling to keep up with developments. The European Commission states that the reliability and safety rates for air transport, if maintained, require a qualitative leap for the future as the capacity limit becomes critical.

In the view of the Commission, current air traffic control systems are close to becoming obsolete and are ill-suited for the rapid, economic and reliable development of aviation in Europe, particularly as expectations have changed:

  • Passengers want efficient, affordable and safe transport;
  • Respect for the environment is becoming a major constraint;
  • 11 September 2001 showed that airplanes can be a threat to the safety of the population.

The needed new approach to air transport cannot be based on the current system: the technology is outdated and does not enable air traffic to be managed in an optimal way. As a result, aircraft are forced to follow predefined flight paths rather than flight paths that are optimal in terms of energy consumption and noise. If no proactive steps are taken to better manage increasing traffic density, the cost of air transport and the various risks associated with it will rise.

SESAR System Launch

The concept for the SESAR system is the EU's response to the problem. The European Council identified the project in 2005 as one of the "projects of common interest" for infrastructure to be implemented. SESAR is the technological element of the Single European Sky, adopted in March 2004, which lays down a clear organisation and establishes cross-border blocks of airspace. With these blocks, routes and airspace structures are no longer defined in accordance with borders but in accordance with the operational traffic needs.

The implementation of SESAR will have required several stages. Given the differences between the various air traffic control systems in Europe and the diverse nature of the fleet currently in service, a transitional period was necessary. The implementation of SESAR therefore is being carried out in three phases:

  • A Definition phase (2005-2008), in which the air traffic modernisation plan - the SESAR ATM Master Plan has been developed, establishing the different technological stages, priorities and timetables;
  • A Development phase (2008-2013) will make it possible to develop the basic technologies which will underpin the new generation of systems;
  • A Deployment phase (2014-2020 and beyond), which will see the large-scale installation of the new systems and the widespread implementation of the related functions.

The transport ministers of the EU countries adopted, on 9 October 2008 in Luxembourg, a resolution officially approving the launch of the SESAR development phase.

In the view of the European Commission, the new SESAR system should triple capacity in comparison to the current situation, with safety increased tenfold and unitary operating costs far lower than current levels.

Further Reading

European Commission


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