EUROCONTROL Director General: We plan to open Western Ukraine and Black Sea area to European air carriers
The head of the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation - EUROCONTROL - Frank Brenner has told in his interview with UNIAN when the world's airlines return to Ukraine, whether they reopen the Crimea airspace, and when Kyiv and Brussels are to sign the Open Sky Agreement.
Ukraine and the European Union are actively discussing the possibility of signing the Agreement on Common Aviation Area ("Open Sky" Agreement). The document, initialed in November 2013 and set aside for the signing because of the Crimea annexation and the war in eastern Ukraine, is back on the agenda, agan. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko gave a new impetus to these discussions. Speaking at a recent meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, he said that the aviation authorities of Ukraine in cooperation with the Cabinet of Ministers must urgently adopt an action plan to get prepared for the introduction of the Common aviation area with the EU.
The main focus of this work is harmonization of the Ukrainian legislation with the EU requirements.
The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation - EUROCONTROL - the structure, which unites the aviation authorities of 41 European states and drafts air traffic regulations across the continent, is ready to help its Ukrainian colleagues.
In early September, EUROCONTROL Director General Frank Brenner paid a visit to Kyiv to hold talks with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Infrastructure Minister Andriy Pyvovarskiy. He also gave an exclusive interview to an UNIAN correspondent.
Mr. Brenner, you have come to Ukraine with a very generous mission – to assess Ukraine’s capabilities on air traffic safety. The situation here has changed dramatically in the past one and a half years. We have seen the Crimea’s annexation, there is an ongoing war in the east of Ukraine. These developments not only had an impact on our infrastructure and economy – they also influenced the whole Europe and the European skies as well, didn’t they?
One of the reasons I’m here, visiting Ukraine, is to consult with all the respective organizations on next steps of cooperation to improve the situation. Ukraine is a member state of the EUROCONTROL since 2004, so it is a long-stay relationship and membership. Eurocontrol is an organization of member-states, there are 41 member-states, and Ukraine, being a large country, is a very important partner in our aviation family.
It is obvious that the economic situation of Ukraine due to the conflict in Crimea and the East of Ukraine has deteriorated significantly. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has diminished and traffic situation has changed. In EUROCONTROL we follow the traffic patterns of all flights over Europe and work together with the Member countries in managing the airspace capacity effectively to allow all flights being conducted in a safe and efficient manner. Harmonized standards in air traffic management are a prerequisite for this.
Since the Crimea situation and conflict in East Ukraine, we saw significant traffic shifts with a reduction of flights in Ukraine of almost 60-70%, which means, of course, a significantly reduced income for UkSATSE as traffic service provider.
This situation also impacts our flight connections from Europe to Asia, whereas the overflights moved to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. The situation for these countries has become complicated because nobody had foreseen this additional traffic.
Meanwhile, Turkey is also becoming a matter of regional tension and concern…
Turkey is a country with the highest traffic growth rates in Europe, and they have been working hard to cope with that traffic growth. And by now we should discuss and see how we can safely use the air routes in western Ukraine and the Black Sea Region.
What has already been done in this respect?
First of all, as an act of solidarity, EUROCONTROL proposed to the 41 Member-States to waive the contribution of Ukraine to EUROCONTROL, which is with EUR 9 million a very significant volume. It is an act of solidarity of all 41 Member States. It is not only a financial support, but also a very strong political sign.
Secondly – we have worked closely in the past months with UkSATSE and the Ministry of Infrastructure to conduct a safety assessment on how to ensure the safety in overflying western Ukraine and the Black Sea area. The International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal (ICAO) asks states to conduct safety assessments, to analyze what are the risks and how can the state deal with these risks best to ensure safety in the air.
We are now confident that a safety assessment can be published by the Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure in the next weeks that will allow the routes over the western part of Ukraine and the Black Sea region to be used by the air carriers again. That does not mean that we open the air routes over the eastern part of Ukraine, where currently the safety cannot be ensured. But in the western part it has been ensured and we provide confidence to the airspace users to use those routes again.
Still we don’t accept any flights over or into the Crimea region. These routes are closed by Ukraine. We will not accept the flight plans in this area nor overflights over eastern Ukraine.
Correct me if I’m wrong, are supporting the usage of overflight routes in western Ukraine as they have been elaborated by Ukraine and proposed to air companies?
Yes. We have been working with UkSATSE, with airspace users and ICAO on this issue. So we expect that we can solve one or two outstanding open issues in short term and see the document being finalized and published by Ukraine allowing safe flights over the western part of Ukraine. And that would increase the overflight traffic and thereby the revenues of UkSATSE.
You mentioned Crimea. Is it still closed? What is EUROCONTROL’s idea on this matter?
EUROCONTROL follows the decision of its Member States when it opens or closes certain air routes or airspaces. Crimea for us is part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine; therefore it is for Ukraine to decide whether to close air routes or airports in Crimea, or to open Them. Ukraine decided to close routes and airports. That’s why we would not accept any flights into and over Crimea as long as the situation remains as today. As we deal with all flight plans, we would reject any flight plans that would intend to go there.
Yes, but what abpout the Russian companies that fly there?
I should say that flights potentially conducted from Russian territory to Crimea are not made available to the EUROCONTROL Central Flight Planning System. Therefore EUROCONTROL has no influence to block those flights.
What about sanctions that may occur if any company would go to Crimea despite the ban?
Sanctions are a political issue. It is to be debated at political level whether sanctions should be applied. It is not an activity of EUROCONTROL to initiate them. Although if such a decision is taken we are then asked to implement them, as we are a technical organization.
You said that you have come to Ukraine for assistance and assessment of our safety level. What are your intentions?
Ukraine and UkSATSE have been long standing and valuable partners to all our projects and also in cooperation with other Member States. Ukraine joined EUROCONTROL already in 2004. We have been very much convinced that the air traffic system provides a safe operation through modern technology. Now the infrastructure situation has changed. UkSATSE has lost a big part of its infrastructure in the East of Ukraine and in Crimea, and it had to adapt to this and to the declining economic situation. We are convinced that UkSATSE has all the capacities to cope with this situation. We have been asked by Minister of Infrastructure, Mr. Andriy Pyvovarskiy, to provide an audit of the technical, operational and economical processes in UkSATSE and to propose areas for improvement. We are at the moment of starting this process and this support.
Ukraine is on the way to move towards an Open Sky Agreement with the European Union, to implement EU legislation on air traffic management, to be coherent to EU legislation. In that respect EUROCONTROL is ready to help Ukraine and UkrSATSE to adapt the one or other legal procedure, to propose the one or other change to Ukrainian legislation in order to be fully coherent with the EU legislation. This is also from the economic stand-point extremely important because with the possibility of convincing the Council of European States to agree to such an Open Sky Agreement the GDP will raise because of the increase of traffic that will go along with such an Agreement. We have seen such developments in Israel, in Balkan states, so there is no reason for us not to believe that traffic will not rise and especially in and out of Kyiv and the western part of the country.
When can this Agreement be signed?
It is mainly a political issue. But it is to convince the EU Member States that Ukraine has done all the necessary steps in that respect. Our assessment and our audit are important contribution to that decision making. The European Commission is supporting this process.
Can you specify the details of the audit? For Ukraine it is an outstanding step when a state company is being under the audit of such a respective organization as EUROCONTROL. How long will it take and how expensive it is?
The Agreement within EUROCONTROL States is that every member pays its contribution to EUROCONTROL. Through that contribution we form the budget of EUROCONTROL. With that budget we give the support to the states. With this system the taxpayer does not pay, but our effort is financed through the countries contributions.
What we focus on in the requested audit are technical, operational and economical processes and possibly needed legislation changes. The common goal is to allow Ukraine to regain confidence with States and airspace users in over-flying the western part of Ukraine and attracting additional traffic to Ukraine. We expect significant air traffic growth if the Open Sky Agreement is signed and implemented.
Do you see the desire in Ukraine to accept all the assistance that you provide? Are there any barriers that may stop the Open Sky Agreement implementation?
My meeting schedule foresees meetings with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Infrastructure, the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, the Director General of Civile Aviation and UkrSATSE. I think that the intentions of the Ukrainian government to move forward with an Open Sky Agreement are transparent. I see the huge amount of work that has been done. Although we see how much is still to be done. But with the energy and desire I see no blocks why the Agreement cannot be achieved. It is commonly agreed that the Agreement is a matter of not only safety but economic concern. Thus it is a question of geting to work and geting the work done.
Are there any concrete projects for UkSATSE which can improve the situation further?
The audit will show them, it will show what is needed. We are in a kick-off stage. The priorities are already set, the technical, operational and economical processes and possibly needed legislation changes. We will address all that.
When will the audit be finished?
We have a plan for the next 6 months, but we are willing to finish all the work quickly. There will be interim steps. We will go item by item.
So by the beginning of 2016, will we be able to talk about first assessments?
Or even earlier. We will first highlight the needed changes to legislation.
What is the main goal? What should happen after the audit? Where do you see Ukraine?
Ukraine is a part of European aviation family, but it is not yet a part of European Union. With a political decision there is a desire to move towards European legislation. EUROCONTROL is a supporter in air traffic management matters here, with technical and operational solutions.
Is it possible that one day Ukraine will not only be just a part of EUROCONTROL but also a service provider for EUROCONTROL?
In 2013, we started to develop a program of services that can be provided not only on national level but also on a central pan-European level. Ukraine and UkSATSE have participated actively to this program of the so-called centralized services on which other Member countries will in future rely on. At the moment, the program is under development and we are happy to see Ukrainian engagement in this concept.
Olesia Safronova (UNIAN)