M. Continuo

EU Commission urges flexibility in air traffic reforms

ROME (Reuters) - New European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc called on Friday for EU countries to show more flexibility in integrating air corridors as she pressed for completion of a long-delayed overhaul of air traffic control systems.

Speaking at an informal meeting in Rome of European Union transport ministers and regulators, Bulc said a deal on the so-called Single European Sky was a chance to reduce delays and inefficiency for passengers and airlines.

"We cannot deal with a reality based mainly around international flights with national systems," she said, according to a statement after the meeting.

"Be flexible, we will find the right compromise."

Friday's meeting ended without any substantial agreement. Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, thanked participants "for the frankness of the discussion" but a scheduled news conference after the meeting was cancelled.

A statement from his ministry said the meeting laid the groundwork for more progress at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Dec. 3 when he is expected to present draft proposals for a reform.

Agreement on the ambitious Single European Sky project has proved difficult, with airlines pushing for a streamlined system of controls and air traffic controllers arguing that the reforms could hit safety and jobs.

The present system divides air traffic control among EU member states, with each country responsible for managing flight paths in its own air space.

The Single European Sky proposal, first launched a decade ago, would arrange the continent's air space in transnational "blocks" in the biggest overhaul of the European aviation system in decades.

Airlines argue it would cut flight delays, reduce emissions of CO2 and save billions of euros for airlines and passengers.

Air traffic control unions in France and Germany say the proposed changes are aimed mainly at cutting costs and could affect safety in European skies, which are among the most crowded in the world.

(Reporting by Antonella Cinelli and James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche)