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Single European Air Traffic Management – SESAR

Picture of José María Aparicio

José María Aparicio

AERTEC / Aerospace & Defence Systems


Air navigation needs an air traffic management (ATM) system that organises the trajectories of the many aircraft crossing the airspace at the same time.

Europe, with more than 35,000 flights a day, has one of the world’s busiest airspaces.

The people in charge of managing it are air traffic controllers, who maintain constant radio and radar communication with aircraft crossing their area or sector from control towers or centres. Their main mission is to prevent two aircraft from occupying the same place at the same time. All pilots are governed by Instrumental Flight Rules (IFR) and have to notify their flight plans periodically, almost in real time. This includes data like their origin, destination, route, range, etc. With this information, controllers assign the various airways the airspace they control is divided into so that all aircraft can safely reach their destinations. In order to attain this, they modify or authorise previously notified flight plans.

Each country is in charge of controlling its own airspace with systems and procedures that are not always compatible with those of their neighbouring countries. Such fragmentation leads to a loss of efficiency which hinders the growth of international air transport. Airlines cannot fully optimise the use of their fleets, flights are frequently delayed, aircraft have to take longer routes than necessary and saturation at destination airports can lead to waiting times and oblige aircraft to fly around in circles.

Europe, with more than 35,000 flights a day, has one of the world’s busiest airspaces. The Single European Sky ATM Research project (SESAR) arose out of the need to create a single, integrated and common viewpoint on the evolution of the air traffic management system in order to deal with the rise in demand forecast for the next few years through the implementation of new procedures and technologies and a new European-wide outlook, as opposed to a national outlook.

A joint undertaking called SJU (Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking) will be in charge of its development. This undertaking is comprised of navigation area service providers, manufacturer members and the SEAC Airports Consortium (further information can be found at:

SESAR’s development consists of three steps: operation time improvements, optimising trajectories and enhancing procedures. The objectives of the first phase, which is already being implemented, are:

  • A 27% increase in air transport capacity.
  • A 40% reduction in air accident risk.
  • A 2.8% reduction per flight in environmental impact.
  • A 6% reduction in air traffic control system costs.

Furthermore, the SESAR project forms part of a more ambitious project called Single European Sky (SES), whose objectives for 2020 are:

  • A three-fold increase in air transport capacity.
  • Improve safety by a factor of ten.
  • Enable a 10% reduction per flight in environmental impact.
  • A 50% reduction in air traffic control system costs.



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