As a traveler, air traffic management (ATM) is pretty much invisible. When you are made aware of it, usually it’s because of a delay. And occasionally, pilots might acknowledge ATM help in getting you to your destination a bit earlier than expected.
When you run an airline, it is quite the opposite. ATM is top of mind. It’s critical to keeping your aircraft safe in the air. The efficiency of the services provided has a big impact on cost and carbon emissions. And if there is insufficient capacity to get your aircraft off the ground reliably on time it affects passengers and crew. And that’s not just for the flight in question, a major delay or failure can put the whole day’s activities at risk.
With all these things in mind I delivered a speech at the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) AGM last week.
ATM is safe. But it is far from optimum efficiency. And, without major modernization, it will not be able to cope with the growing demand for air transport. So while ATM may be largely taken for granted by travelers today, it’s definitely an area to watch.
In fact, one of my biggest messages to CANSO was that governments need to take a bigger stake in ensuring ATM efficiency. That’s particularly true in Europe where 27 ATM service providers need to work in close proximity.
For decades we have been calling for a Single European Sky that would, among other things, improve safety, reduce costs, and enhance environmental performance. It should also help reduce disruption and delay. Last year there was more than 1.3 million minutes of delay due to strikes and equipment failures. Dealing with these issues will have a positive impact on the economy. A recent report quantified the potential benefits. If Europe modernizes its ATM system, then Europeans will share an annual EUR245 billion boost to prosperity in 2035. If the system continues to muddle through, the continent will forfeit that benefit and the 1 million extra jobs a year that would have come with it.
Every European country stands to gain. So we are now challenging individual governments and their air navigation service providers to make plans to work with us to deliver modernization and reform. Our hope is that national airspace strategies—focused on common goals—will lead to continent-wide modernization and eventually to the EUR 245 billion annual reward. If you have two minutes to spare, this video sums up the challenge very well:
So the next time that you hear the dreaded “we are delayed because of ATM congestion” announcement, there is more at stake than making your meeting or getting home in time for dinner. It’s a symptom of money being wasted and productivity taking a hit. Perhaps it would be a good opportunity to write to your local politician and ask her or him what they are doing about it.