Airspace Q3 2018: A pan-European outlook

10 September 2018

Traffic increases in Europe could mean further increases in delays unless governments provide the support ANSPs need.

Air traffic capacity shortages and delays in Europe must be addressed by stronger cooperation and the timely delivery of solutions.

"It is now widely recognised that the unprecedented growth in air traffic in Europe will create challenges of insufficient capacity and an unacceptable increase in delays unless urgent new actions and initiatives are taken," says Jeff Poole, Director General of CANSO.

"CANSO and its Members are playing their part through new investments, technologies and processes," he continues. "However, the step changes that are needed to address the capacity and delay challenges can only be achieved by removing the present constraints to a true pan-European approach to airspace management – with a greater sense of urgency."

In EUROCONTROL's 2018 Challenges of Growth, four possible future scenarios are presented:

• Global Growth is characterised by strong global growth with technology used to mitigate sustainability challenges
• Regulation and Growth features moderate growth regulated to reconcile demand with sustainability issues
• Fragmenting World postulates a world of increasing tensions and reduced globalisation
• Happy Localism considers a fragile Europe increasingly, but contentedly, looking inwards.

The report suggests that Regulation and Growth is the most likely outcome. In this scenario, Europe will host 16 million flights annually by 2040, a 53% increase on 2017 figures.

Global Growth remains a possibility, however, and would cause the greatest capacity challenges. This scenario would see nearly 20 million flights by 2040, an 84% increase on the 2017 total.

To cope, airports are expanding their facilities, with 111 planning a 16% increase in capacity between them, allowing for 4 million extra aircraft movements.

The top 20 airports are doing the bulk of the development, though, according to Challenges of Growth. They are planning to accommodate 28% more passengers or 2.4 million movements.

The crucial point, however, is these airport expansion plans are not enough. By 2040, under Regulation and Growth, 1.5 million flights or 8% of demand will go unaccommodated. That is 160 million passengers unable to fly. In Global Growth, the gap is 3.7 million flights or 16% of demand.

Challenges of Growth continues: "Even with 1.5 million flights unaccommodated and therefore lost, the network remains highly congested. The number of 'Heathrow-like' airports operating near capacity for much of the day climbs from six in summer 2016 to 16 in 2040, or even 28 in Global Growth.

"We have modelled delays from all causes, and find that in the summer, these would jump from 12 minutes to 20 minutes per flight in 2040. In particular, the number of flights delayed by 1-2 hours increases by a factor of seven, which means around 470,000 passengers each day delayed by 1-2 hours in 2040, compared with around 50,000 today."

No quick fix

Delays stem from various causes, including lack of capacity both in the air and on the ground, technical problems with aircraft, airport congestion and bad weather.

They are already getting worse. In summer 2018, delays have more than doubled compared with summer 2017 and reached 47,000 minutes per day, according to EUROCONTROL data.

Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association accepts that there is no quick fix for this year. "But the needed solutions are well-known," he says. "With the correct investment and planning by governments and ANSPs we can, and must, make next year better."

In its Performance Review Report (PRR) for 2017, the independent Performance Review Commission (PRC) of EUROCONTROL notes air traffic in Europe reached 10.6 million flights, the highest level on record.

Overall, 5.3% of flights were affected by en-route ATFM delays in 2017 (up from 4.8% in 2016) with an average delay of 16.5 minutes per delayed flight.

The PRC chairman, Ralph Riedle, notes: "While the continuous improvement in cost-efficiency is to be welcomed, if we take the economic view, combining provision and delay costs, we see that a significant part of the cost-efficiency savings are being offset by the sustained increase in ATFM delay costs. This reflects concerns expressed by the PRC in previous reports that delays would increase again, unless sufficient attention was focussed on capacity planning and deployment."

CANSO support

CANSO and its Members will continue to focus on reducing those delays which are genuinely addressable by air traffic management. But effective cooperation between all stakeholders needs to start now if capacity is to grow with demand; and if delays and congestion are to be avoided.

Already, developments under the first phase of SESAR, which targets busy airports at peak hours. could reduce the most-likely 2040 capacity gap by 28%.

CANSO Member ANSPs in Europe, meanwhile, invested €6.2 billion between 2011 and 2016 in new ATM infrastructure. They continue to take steps to reduce delays and improve efficiency, such as collaborative decision-making, air traffic flow management, greater flexibility for aircraft to fly their chosen routes and implementing new technologies and procedures.

CANSO also welcomes and strongly supports the joint call of the European Commission and the European Parliament for EU Member States to resume discussions on improving European airspace.

A key step will be ensuring adequate funding for ATM infrastructure expansion and modernisation. States also need to implement smarter regulation that encourages performance improvements. Perhaps most importantly of all States need to ensure a pan-European approach with more cross-border cooperation.

It is not an easy fix. Air traffic controllers take time to train and develop, and funding and implementing new infrastructure has an even longer timeframe.

In addition, as airlines insist that charges are kept as low as possible, ANSPs have been careful not to provide more capacity than the agreed forecast requirements. It means that in the short and medium term, it is difficult to increase ATM services to handle extra traffic.

"CANSO believes strongly that a coordinated approach across all stakeholders can create the step changes that are necessary in the management of European airspace and deliver the biggest benefits," says Poole.

"We are therefore urging all stakeholders, in particular Member States, to work together with a renewed sense of urgency on delivering the objectives of a Single European Sky; invest in modernising ATM infrastructure; and enact facilitating regulation that is performance-based rather than prescriptive. We welcome the joint call for action from the European Commission and the European Parliament and we are committed to work with them, States, industry and other stakeholders to ensure Europe's airspace has adequate capacity and is fit for purpose now and in the future."

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