Single European Sky (SES)

The European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative

About SES

The Single European Sky is an initiative to improve the way Europe’s airspace is managed.

Europe’s airspace is currently fragmented, divided along national borders. This can lead to duplication of effort and inefficiencies, with airspace users sometimes flying further than they need to, increasing fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

The Single European Sky initiative was set up to address these challenges, whilst reducing the cost of air traffic service provision and increasing Europe’s capacity to meet forecast growth in demand for air traffic.


NATS contributes to the Single European Sky in a number of ways:

  • SESAR. We are an active contributor to SESAR – the Single European Sky ATM Research programme – and are a member of both the SESAR Joint Undertaking and the SESAR Deployment Manager.
  • UK-Ireland Functional Airspace Block (FAB). We are a member of the UK-Ireland Functional Airspace Block (FAB), the first FAB to be established and operationally active when it launched in 2008. In its first four years of operation, the FAB delivered more than double the €12m enabled customer savings that it targeted when it was established.
  • Alliances. We are founding members of two of Europe’s leading Alliances committed to driving progress in support of the objectives of the Single European Sky – the A6 Alliance of Air Navigation Service Providers and the Borealis Alliance.
  • Regulatory Framework. We contribute to Europe-wide performance targets for air traffic management in the areas of safety, cost-efficiency, capacity and environmental performance, set as part of the regulatory framework of the Single European Sky. We have committed to a price reduction of c.20% in real terms by the end of RP2 (2019), whilst maintaining our excellent performance levels and delivering significant environmental savings. For details of our latest performance plan, which contributes to delivering the Single European Sky, please visit our page on the SES Regulatory Framework.
  • European airspace network. We work closely with other ANSPs and Eurocontrol to ensure the wider European airspace network functions smoothly and efficiently and our Director of Operations, Strategy is Chair of the European Commission-mandated Network Management Board.

Regulatory Framework

Since 2012 the European Commission has introduced a regulatory framework in support of the Single European Sky. This regulatory framework aims at setting and implementing binding targets for EU Member States in the key performance areas of safety, environment, airspace capacity and cost efficiency.

Member States put forward proposals as part of Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to the European Commission for its approval based on its assessment of whether the plans make a sufficient contribution to the key performance areas. The UK Government submits its plans with the Irish Government on behalf of the UK-Ireland FAB.


The Single European Sky ATM Research programme (SESAR) is a major public-private cross-industry initiative. It brings together the aviation industry to develop new technologies and solutions that will improve the way Europe’s airspace is managed and oversee their implementation.

The SESAR Joint Undertaking is a collaborative programme of research and innovation designed to develop, test and validate concepts and technologies that will help modernize Europe’s air traffic management system.

NATS is a full member and an active contributor to the SESAR Joint Undertaking, a major European research and innovation programme established to help modernise Europe’s airspace.

NATS is a full member of the SESAR Joint Undertaking; we lead Work Package 5, which focuses on concepts and technologies for the Terminal Manoeuvring Area (TMA) and play an active role in a number of other projects and activities.

Our work in SESAR projects is yielding benefits for customers. NATS work in the SESAR Extended Arrival Manager project led directly to operational trials of Heathrow XMAN (Cross-border arrivals management), whereby neighbouring ANSPs slow down Heathrow arrivals at around 350nm when delay of 7 minutes or greater is predicted, delivering significant fuel, cost and environmental savings to customers.

Work carried out in one of SESAR’s airports package in which NATS was involved helped develop the concept of Time-Based Separation, whereby aircraft are separated by time instead of distance. This significantly improves resilience in strong headwind conditions. NATS has built on that initial R&D and, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, developed a TBS solution which has been deployed at Heathrow, helping to maintain landing rates in strong headwind conditions. TBS at Heathrow is expected to save 80,000 minutes of delay per year at the World’s busiest dual-runway airport.

SESAR is currently moving into its third and final phase – ‘deployment’ – whereby the concepts and technologies developed through the SESAR Joint Undertaking are introduced into operation across Europe. The European Commission appointed the SESAR Deployment Alliance to the role of SESAR Deployment Manager in December 2014.

The SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) Deployment Alliance is an unprecedented cross industry partnership made up of four airline groups, operators of 25 airports and 11 air traffic control providers, including NATS.

The SESAR Deployment Manager will ensure that new technologies and solutions that have already been tested and validated through the SESAR Joint Undertaking are delivered into everyday operations across Europe, delivering significant benefits to airspace users and the environment. It is responsible for coordinating and synchronising upgrades to the continent’s air traffic management infrastructure and overseeing more than €2.5bn of European funding to support this.

European Union co-funding

To support the deployment of new technologies and solutions, NATS benefits from co-funding from the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA).

European Union co-funding is one of the instruments to realise European transport infrastructure policy. It supports investments in building new transport infrastructure in Europe or upgrading existing ones.

Since April 2021 this funding is managed by the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA).

The projects NATS have received co-funding for include:

Implementation Project #117AF5 (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2014).

Completed in 2021, this co-funded project has developed a core Enterprise Information Service (EIS) capability to interconnect ATM services within centres, with Airports and with other users which is compliant with the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) standards, infrastructure and governance.

Implementation Project #120AF1a (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2014).

Completed in March 2016, this co-funded project has produced a systemised airspace design for the London Terminal Manoeuvring Area (TMA) by using Performance Based Navigation procedures and Standard Arrival Routes (STARs) and facilitating Required Navigation Performance (RNP-1) Standard Instrumental Departures (SIDs) where required at London Airports,

Implementation Project #120AF1b (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2014).

Completed in December 2015, this co-funded project has re-developed part of the London Terminal Manoeuvring Area (TMA) affecting London City Airport and higher level re-sectorisation and airspace modification within the TMA. This is part of a wider re-development of the London TMA to enable RNAV-1 operations supporting the UK CAA Future Airspace Strategy (FAS) to enable a modernised air traffic management system that provides safe and efficient airspace that has the capacity to meet reasonable demand, balances the needs of all users and mitigates the impact of aviation on the environment. LAMP is also a key building block for implementing the SESAR concept of operation in terminal airspace.

Implementation Project #119AF1 (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2014).

This co-funded project has supported the development of a new airspace design for the introduction of Area Navigation Standard Instrumental Departures (RNAV1 SIDs) and Standard Arrival Routes (STARs) within the Manchester Terminal Manoeuvring Area (TMA) in order to systemise the airspace infrastructure around the Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, East Midlands and Liverpool airports. We are looking to implement this airspace design by 2024 for all the airports except Leeds which has been deferred until 2028.

Implementation Project #097AF2 (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2014).

Completed in February 2016, this co-funded project has delivered for Heathrow airport the first worldwide implementation of the Time Based Separation SESAR concept that has allowed to mitigate the delays caused by strong headwinds on final approach. This deployment has reduced Heathrow airport overall Air Traffic Flow Management delay by 20% (equivalent to £6m-£7.5 cost per annum for airlines).

Implementation Project #020AF3 (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2014).

Completed in May 2017, this co-funded project has delivered the implementation of Free Route Airspace (FRA) in the NEFRA region consisting of the DK/SE Functional Airspace Block (FAB) and NEFAB as well as the planning activities for introducing FRA across all Borealis Alliance States (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and UK). Free Route Airspace is part of the capabilities of the European Pilot Common Project looking to provide more efficient planning of routes for airspace users.

Action 2015-UK-TM-0012-W

Completed in September 2019, this co-funded project has delivered an operational resource management solution and surveillance tracker, safety nets and synchronised replay services ready for integration with the next-generation Flight Data Processing Systems, capable of supporting the new SESAR Operational Concept and associated technologies.

Implementation Project 2015_286_AF2 (part of Action SESAR Deployment Programme implementation 2015 – Cluster 1)

Completed in July 2018, this co-funded project deployed Electronic Flight Strips in the London Terminal Control to replace paper strips providing controllers with automated flight data management information via new touch-screen controls installed in the operation increasing airspace capacity and improving electronic communication within Terminal Control and with Tower Control.

Action: 2015-UK-TM-0013-W

This co-funded project has supported the rationalisation of NATS Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) equipment to support the performance ambitions of the ATM Master Plan which includes:

  • Rationalising the Radio Navigation Aids infrastructure in line with the current and future Satellite-based navigation environment. 
  • Migrating from 25kHz Voice Communication frequencies to 8.33kHz below FL195. 

The DVOR upgrades and monitoring system replacement have completed.  In addition, all work for the conversion to 8.33kHz below FL195 has completed.

Action: 2015-UK-TM-0010-W

This co-funded project has supported the development of new combined strategic operations room for Swanwick which will exploit a common workstation design and a common strategic technology platform. It will provide over 250 Controller Working Positions (CWPs) delivered via a new single combined Operations Room at Swanwick for London Area Control, London Terminal Control and UK Military, serving around 800 shift-keeping staff. This will be the first time these operations will be combined into one single room, improving interoperability, internal coordination as well as resource allocation efficiency. 

UK-Ireland FAB

Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) are an initiative of the European Commission, designed to try and defragment Europe’s airspace. They oblige States, Air Navigation Service Providers and National Supervisory Authorities to cooperate across borders in order to try and better manage traffic flows to both improve performance and reduce costs. There are currently nine Functional Airspace Blocks.

The UK-Ireland FAB acts as Europe’s North Atlantic gateway, with around 90% of North Atlantic traffic passing through Irish or UK airspace.

In the first four years of operation it delivered over €70m of enabled savings to customers, including 232,000 tonnes of CO2 and 73,000 tonnes of fuel. Major projects have included the first-ever operational trial of cross-border dynamic sectorisation – the tactical switching of air traffic services between providers and a world-first operational trial of cross-border arrival management procedures, slowing down aircraft across borders in order to reduce the time they are required to spend in airport holding stacks.

Further details can be found on the UK-Ireland FAB website.

Network Management

The UK’s airspace is an integral part of the wider European air traffic management (ATM) system. Europe’s airspace is busy and complex and any major delays or issues in one piece of airspace can have a knock-on effect in other parts of the network, so it is vital that they are identified, anticipated and managed appropriately to avoid any disruption. The Network Manager was set up by the European Commission in 2011 to do exactly that, and to ensure the whole European system functions efficiently. 

The Network Manager works in partnership with ANSPs across Europe to manage air traffic flows efficiently and effectively across the network. It also manages scarce resources that underpin air traffic management in Europe – for example, coordinating radio frequencies within aviation frequency bands used by general air traffic and coordinating Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) transponder codes. As a major part of Europe’s North Atlantic gateway, NATS works closely with the Network Manager to address any air traffic flow management issues and minimise their impact on Europe’s air traffic.

The work of the Network Manager is overseen by the Network Management Board (NMB). The NMB is comprised of representatives of an Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) from each Functional Airspace Block (FAB), commercial and non-commercial civil airspace users, airport operators and the military, as well as the European Commission and Eurocontrol (in a primarily non-voting role). It is responsible for a wide range of activities related to the functioning of Europe’s airspace network, including setting the annual Network Operations Plans and monitoring their implementation


NATS is a founding member of two of Europe’s leading ANSP Alliances – the A6 Alliance and the Borealis Alliance.

The A6 is an alliance of some of the main European Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs). Its aim is to help drive modernisation of the European ATM network within the SESAR programme for the benefit of customers. Its role is to create synergies between the ANSP members of the SESAR JU to maximise customer and network benefits and to provide leadership at a European level in critical technical and strategic areas.

The A6 members, bound by a Memorandum of Co-operation, are full members of the SESAR Joint Undertaking, making the A6 uniquely placed to represent the interests of the ATM industry in the effective deployment of technologies and concepts developed through the SESAR programme.

The A6 Alliance is part of the SESAR Deployment Alliance, which was recently appointed SESAR Deployment Manager by the European Commission.

Learn more about the A6 Alliance.

The Borealis Alliance is a leading Alliance of Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) that enables its Members to drive better performance for stakeholders through business collaboration.

The Alliance includes the ANSPs of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Combined, they provide air traffic services for 3.7m flights a year, across 12.5 million KM2 of north European airspace, between them forming Europe’s major transatlantic gateway.

The Borealis Alliance is currently working on a major programme to deliver free route airspace across the whole of Northern Europe by 2020. The programme will create free route airspace extending from the eastern boundary of the North Atlantic to the western boundary of Russian airspace in the North of Europe, delivering significant customer benefits in terms of fuel efficiency, environmental performance and cost savings.

Learn more about the Borealis Alliance.

NATS Brussels Office

NATS is a regular and active participant in both technical and political discussions within Europe. We engage with bodies such as the SJU, Eurocontrol, EASA, the European Commission and the European Parliament, using our expertise and guidance to try and create a political and technical environment that enables us to focus on delivering benefits to our customers.

We share an office in Brussels with some of our ANSP partners, including members of the A6 and Borealis Alliance.


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