Aviation is only a century old but it has rapidly become a vital part of the modern economy. It has long been recognised that it is necessary not just to have air traffic control— with controllers giving detailed instructions to pilots to make sure that they stay safe —but also to have a proactive approach to air traffic management (ATM); organising the airspace, setting procedures, managing the overall air traffic flows across a continent, and responding to problems such as bad weather.

ATM is largely organised on a national state level, with each country having its own air navigation service provider (ANSP). In Europe, however, ATM is changing rapidly, not just technically but also structurally, mainly driven by the European Union’'s Single European Sky initiative. This aims at improving the performance of ATM in Europe, as well as enhancing the competitiveness of the European aviation industry. Some of the most innovative changes are being developed by EUROCONTROL, which has been involved in ATM since 1960.

Initially, EUROCONTROL had just six members —Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom— and the original intention was to provide air traffic control services for the upper airspace across these countries. But even though the mission has evolved to being one of coordination with a strong technical emphasis, the scale of the organisation has expanded massively, as explained by Director General Frank Brenner: “EUROCONTROL was founded to overcome fragmentation in European ATM. Europe is a relatively small continent compared to other continents on this earth. But in this small continent, we have 41 states that are all EUROCONTROL members. The political changes in the nineties in Europe have supported this growth in membership, with countries from Eastern Europe joining EUROCONTROL in significant numbers.