The major airline industry group is once again criticizing the “painfully slow” progress in Europe’s air traffic management reform, and has issued its own plan for increasing ATM efficiency and lowering cost.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) unveiled its blueprint at the Civil Air Navigation Organization (CANSO) World ATM Congress in Madrid. Among the recommendations are a drastic cut in the number of en-route control centers, and new ways to enforce cost-efficiency targets.

Speaking at the conference, IATA Director General Tony Tyler highlighted the frustration of the airline industry at the slow pace of the Single European Sky program being pursued by the European Commission, states and air navigation service providers.

The Single Sky project is aimed at both modernizing ATM infrastructure and reforming the institutional and regulatory framework. One of its marquee efforts is erasing the complex web of airspace boundaries in Europe and replacing them with nine multinational areas called functional airspace blocks (FABs).

The deadline for creating the FABs was in December 2012, but after almost a decade of work, the European states have been widely criticized for proposing FABs that do not meet the goals originally laid out. The European Commission has taken initial steps toward legal action against the states for failing to deliver

IATA believes that there are “no insurmountable technical barriers” standing in the way of the Single Sky effort. “The reality is that the Single Sky is a political challenge, not a [technical] one,” says Tyler. He notes that airlines are either directly or indirectly paying for a large proportion of the European ATM reform. However, IATA “cannot recommend sustaining investment in [Single Sky] if the approach is putting new technology into old [regulatory and institutional] structures.”

The FABs were supposed to reduce cost and increase efficiency, but so far they have “done neither,” says Tyler. There is no sign of near-term improvement, despite the efforts of the European Commission to goad states into more ambitious moves.

While master plans have been created on the technology side, these need to be incorporated into a broader plan encompassing all the Single Sky goals, says IATA.

IATA’s proposal includes streamlining en-route ATM within the FABs. Operational management, training, procurement and support functions should be centralized, which would cut unit costs by 10% and save EUR700 million ($941.6 million) a year. IATA notes that the ratio of support staff to controllers is much higher in Europe than in the U.S.

Next, the 63 en-route centers in Europe should be trimmed to no more than 40, which would save another 10% in unit costs. In their final state, IATA says the proposals could cut costs by up to 50%.

The blueprint also focuses on reinforcing the cost-efficiency performance goals that are related to the Single Sky effort. IATA wants the establishment of an independent European economic regulator to oversee air navigation charges. The existing Performance Review Body could be strengthened to fulfill this role, IATA says.

Tyler told AviationWeek on the sidelines of the CANSO conference that there is little point in helping pay for new ATM technology “if we’re not going to see a return on that investment.”

The other major aviation industry groups, along with the European Commission and Eurocontrol, are receptive to discussing the blueprint for reforming the Single Sky process, says Tyler. “We don’t mind if ours is not the one that is decided on, but we need a blueprint.” He says all those involved want to make progress. “There is a will, now we want to find a way.”