Improving airspace efficiency in Europe

There were 19.1 million minutes of delays in Europe in 2018. At the Capacity of the Future session on air traffic management (ATM), Eamonn Brennan, Director General of Eurocontrol, said a lack of staffing in key areas, especially Germany, controller strikes in France, and the rise in traffic all contributed. Tactical improvements, such as moving 1,100 flights a day away from Germany into Polish airspace, will help the 2019 situation.

But ultimately unless there is structural change, flights will go unaccommodated and delays will increase. “Airlines pay $10 billion a year for ATM in Europe, but are they getting $10 billion in value?” asked Brennan.

The good news is that Brennan believes the solution is relatively simple. Integrated upper airspace controlled by a single network manager would solve many of the problems. Sovereignty need not be an issue and each of the 41 different ATM centers in Europe can still guide the aircraft down to the runway. “Borders exist in the air that don’t exist on the ground,” he said. The bad news is that getting this change is proving difficult politically. And a lack of investment in ATM further complicates the issue.

And it will not only be airlines and passengers that suffer if structural change is ignored. The environment too will be hit by congested skies. Brennan noted that emissions are growing faster than the network capacity because too many flights are being forced to fly at lower levels for longer than necessary.

“When asked what role airlines could play in structural change, Brennan replied: “Help!”., Brennan snapped: “Help!”

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