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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Crash fuels Europe airspace debate
Air traffic controller in Zurich
The new system may not cover Switzerland
Monday night's mid-air collision over southern Germany has refocused attention on plans to create a single airspace for the European Union.

The European Commission has proposed a "single skies" system, whereby national airspace would merge into a single, centrally-controlled European zone.

Air traffic controllers opposed the moves in a number of strikes in June in France, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Hungary.

They fear that the scheme will lead to widespread job cuts and could compromise safety.

Monday's accident took place shortly after one of the planes had been handed from German to Swiss control, and investigators will want to determine whether that played a part.

EU officials say it is not clear whether the new system could have helped prevent the crash - the aircraft involved in the collision were handled by controllers in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU.

But the crash seems likely to put the spotlight on the limits of the current system, which is under heavy strain because of rapid increases in air traffic.

Separate blocks

The current system of European airspace is very fragmented.

It dates back to the 1960s when it was patched together from even older national systems.

It divides the continent's airspace into blocks which use a variety of different air traffic control technologies.

It is generally accepted that, if created from scratch, the system would be very different.

It has had to handle increasingly heavy air traffic, which is set to increase by another 4% a year for the next 15 years.

It is estimated that air traffic control capacity will have to double to accommodate the anticipated increase.

The commission argues that a single skies system would improve safety, as well as boosting economic growth.


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