Eurocontrol want to harmonize and integrate European air navigation in the face of constant air traffic increases. If demand carries on increasing, Europeans will want to take 16 million flights in the year 2020 – but we aren’t ready for so many planes. The congestion that will follow if we don’t act could see 3.7 million of those flights cancelled, and 50 billion euros lost revenue.

There are many problems with European air traffic regulation. Individual areas are segregated and operate by their own standards and excessive regulations. To accommodate the growth of air travel, things have to change – but whose things, which of them, and how much?

The Single European Sky project was launched in 2004 to restructure airspace to create more capacity, increase efficiency, improve safety, and reduce environmental impact. A laudable aim, although taking these steps will involve some pain. All improvement programs have tradeoffs, and in a complicated system like this any action influences other dimensions of the problem. Add to that a bunch of different stakeholders with different priorities and costs, and even different definitions of the criteria being used, and it’s hard to create unity.

Bert De Reyck of UCL Management Science and Innocation and his colleague Yael Grushka-Cockayne have designed a fair way to make these complicated decisions. They have broken up the procedure into a number of different stages, each one designed to be fair and transparent. Their framework incorporates the views of many stakeholders and many different priorities and considers different ways of bringing the project together. Using algorithms to combine different stakeholders’ independent evaluations, optimized solutions are produced which are then re-evaluated by all negotiating parties until a result which is holistic, balanced, and acceptable to all is reached.

Their process allows for both qualitative and quantitative expert assessments to be included, and trades-off objectives such as capacity, safety, security, environmental concerns, predictability and efficiency. It has proved so successful that it has been used for the initial stages of the Single European Sky’s work, and will be instrument in getting EUROCONTROL’s joined up sky to take off.

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