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Is Europe’s Air Traffic out of Control?

5 minute read
BLAINE GRETEMAN

The investigation into a mid-air collision between a Russian airliner and a DHL cargo jet over Germany last week has just begun. But scrutiny is already focused on Skyguide, the Swiss air- traffic-control center responsible for the area where the planes crashed. Investigators want to determine whether factors at the center — the deactivation of a crucial warning system, the instructions issued to the Russian pilot less than 50 seconds before impact and Skyguide’s sub-European-standard radar system — amount to negligence. Whatever the inquiry finds, notes Daniel Solon at the aviation consultancy Avmark, “this highlights the urgency for some integrated European system of control.” Planes flying through Europe negotiate among more than 60 centers that divvy up airspace along national lines (vs. just 21 centers for all of the U.S.), a complex web that costs airlines ?10 billion a year in congestion and delays. But the more centralized system proposed in the European Commission’s Single Sky initiative is facing opposition. Striking air-traffic controllers across Europe halted flights in June to protest the plan, which they fear would lead to privatization and job cuts. France, Portugal and Greece also have reservations. Investigators are gathering clues into the German crash, which killed 71 people, from the planes’ badly damaged flight data recorders. Making sense of Europe’s air-traffic-control system, with all the job and sovereignty issues it entails, may not prove any easier.

THE COMMON CURRENCY
Just Don’t Mention the War
The British anti-euro campaign is telling a tale full of the pound and the Führer in cinemas this week. Rik Mayall, star of cult TV show The Young Ones, appears in a 90-second ad dressed as Hitler to shout “Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Euro!” (One people! One country! One euro!) The ad, which includes other celebrities arguing that it is not anti-Europe to be anti-euro, drew the wrath of commentators and Jewish groups, who called it offensive and predicted it would backfire by painting the campaign in xenophobic colors. But George Eustice, the campaign’s director, insisted that “anyone who sees the clip in its context is not going to take any offense.” He may be right — nearly. Before the launch, focus groups said they didn’t find the Hitler gag offensive. Meanwhile, the protests gave the ad enough free publicity to achieve its goal of lining up popular figures against a currency that over 50% of Britons say they would vote against. If the campaign helps preserve that opposition, Tony Blair’s march toward a euro referendum could turn into a double-time retreat.

THE BOURSE
Zero Sum Game?
General Motors and Ford reintroduced 0% loans to keep cars selling. But with incentives already averaging over $2,000 a vehicle, it’s difficult to see how they’ll make money on the deal.

The End Of The Quest
Qwest, which filed for bankruptcy in May, began switching off its 10,000-km Ebone Internet network after its sale collapsed. The closure affects thousands of customers across Europe.

Ready, set, postpone
Yell, the directory business valued at $3.5-$4.3 billion, and Focus Wickes, the retailer worth $1.5-$1.8 billion, canceled their IPOS as London’s FTSE 100 hit its lowest levels since 1997.

Buy The Chinese Skies
China will lift rules restricting foreigners from owning more than 35% of an airline, although Chinese partners must still hold a majority. China Eastern is already 35% foreign-owned.

INDICATORS
Designer-Label Food
The E.U. Parliament passed requirements to label foods with over .5% genetically modified content. The bill, which requires member-state approval, was denounced by the U.S., where Europe’s GM rules already block $300 million in annual exports.

Over 1 Billion Served
The billionth personal computer was shipped last week, according to Gartner Group and Intel. Although it took over 25 years to reach this milestone, the next billion should sell in just six years, with high demand in China, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Reform Lost in the Mail
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was forced to compromise on deregulating postal services, which he made a litmus test for larger reforms. A public postal corporation will be formed, but the effort to introduce competition has been returned to sender.

The Flow Slows
Money may make the world go round, but cash itself isn’t moving as it used to. A fall in privatizations and cross-border mergers has led to a 56% plunge in foreign direct investment in the world’s richest nations, says an O.E.C.D. report.

BOTTOM LINES
“The fear is this market has more shoes than Imelda Marcos.”
Charles Reinhard, Lehman Brothers strategist, asked when the stock market’s next shoe will drop

“A lot of them would like to see us go out of business. We’re not going that far.”
Martin Broughton, British American Tobacco chairman, on efforts to please corporate responsibility groups

“The seemingly endless desire for convenience and the lowest possible price has a direct impact, like it or not, on the producer.”
Prince Charles, scolding Britons who buy cheap food

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