Single sky is the limit
In his 20 years working on aviation policy in the European Commission, one of Luc Tytgat’s principal challenges was transforming Europe’s fragmented airspace into a ‘single European sky’. When in 2011 he moved to Eurocontrol, he found himself responsible for implementing the single European sky policy that he had helped design. This is a privilege given to few policymakers, but it seemed logical for someone who started out as an engineer.
“It’s the production cycle: You design, you implement and then you feed back. And maybe you re-design,” he says. “Otherwise you see only part of the programme for which you are responsible. Eurocontrol has offered me the chance to see the different phases of the programme cycle, and I feel very lucky in that respect.”
Eurocontrol, a Brussels-based inter-governmental organisation that co-ordinates air-traffic management across 39 European states, was created in 1960. Until the European Union took over in 2004, it masterminded policy in the area; since then, it has focused on implementation of the EU legislative framework, aimed at accommodating an increasing number of flights in European airspace while cutting costs and improving air-traffic management.
Tytgat studied aeronautical engineering at the Belgian Military Academy, and, on graduating in 1981, joined the national air force, working in areas as diverse as jet maintenance and electronic warfare. In 1990 he took a master’s degree in public management and moved over to the Commission. He considers this long apprenticeship essential to his new role. “For me, you can contribute effectively to policymaking if you know your sector,” he says.
Initially, he worked in the office of commissioner Karel Van Miert, dealing with state aid, the international market, industry policy and air transport. He went on to cover air transport in different parts of the Commission, before a seven-year stint devoted to space policy and the Galileo satellite navigation programme.
In 2006, he was appointed to lead the Commission unit overseeing the single European sky policy.
Now, having moved over to Eurocontrol, Tytgat heads the single-sky directorate, supporting governments and co-ordinating the civil and military sides of the single sky policy. The EU has no competence over the military. Eurocontrol also exercises an EU mandate to act as an economic, safety and environmental regulator of the air-traffic management network. The main task is oversight of how states are implementing the regulatory framework. “We benchmark it and verify the support measures, go on-site and assist the national civil aviation authorities to take appropriate measures,” he says.
The technical aspects are relatively straightforward. However, there are issues of trust that need to be resolved when it comes to sovereignty in the air, military control of airspace, and the impact of harmonisation on air-traffic control as a profession. “It’s a continuous dialogue,” Tytgat says. “Through exercises, through meetings, through establishing a process together, you get the confidence of all the actors.”
Being on the other side of the fence has brought home to him the complexity of implementing the policy. “There is a distance between the officials in the Commission who are designing and making proposals and the states that have to transpose them,” he says. “That is a distance that I had underestimated.”
Extensive consultations and the involvement of national experts on secondment have so far failed to bridge the gap.
Tytgat feels the policy is still sound, but believes that the Commission needs even more feedback as implementation continues. “I would want to be even more connected to the sector, closer to the constraints of the national administrations,” he says.
Ian Mundell is a freelance journalist based in Brussels.
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