At a conference of air traffic controllers from across the European Union in Southampton, David McMillan, Director General of Civil Aviation at the Department for Transport, warned that aviation was under attack as never before because of noise levels and carbon emissions.
"There is a danger that aviation becomes the tobacco industry of the 21st century and is viewed as an evil product."
The industry could not ignore public opinion and would have to reduce carbon emissions, cut fuel consumption and develop air traffic management systems that were environmentally effective, he told 150 air traffic controllers and engineers from the UK union Prospect and 25 other EU countries.
Those steps would require the European Union to coordinate the existing maze of air traffic systems in partnership with member states, ATM staff and Eurocontrol, the international air navigation body.
But the DfT chief received a stern warning not to put commercial gain ahead of safety from Gwyneth Dunwoody, chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee. Safety standards had to remain the paramount concern of air traffic control, but they were not the focus of the current plans for a Single European Sky.
Dunwoody said the Transport Select Committee would be calling for the UK to subject all European transport proposals to a detailed audit trail of their cost and safety implications.
Paul Barron, the Chief Executive of the UK’s provider, National Air Traffic Services, questioned what he saw as the lack of urgency about the need for change in the aviation industry which he put down to a lack of leadership at government level in the EU.
Barron said change could not happen unless it had the support of staff, which he believed he had gained at NATS by involving unions in the company’s plans for implementing the Single European Sky.