Eurocontrol's SES vision may bypass FABs in favour of network

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The creation of functional airspace blocks (FAB), officially the basis for transforming Europe's nationally fragmented air traffic management system into one sectored according to operational logic, is not happening as envisaged, says Eurocontrol director general David McMillan.

He hints that the FAB concept may, in practice, be subsumed into the long-term Single European Sky objective of providing a network-centric system in which all the air navigation service providers (ANSP) co-operate to produce efficient traffic flows, rather than fixating on airspace restructuring as a geographical imperative.

European states and ANSPs lack a unified concept of what an FAB is and what its purposes are, McMillan admits, but he emphasises that improvements are being introduced and the real need for a fundamentally different system is fully understood.

The way to get from the present to the transformed system is what the two-year SESAR study has been about, but because it has only just been completed, the stakeholders - the states, airlines, airports, ANSPs and ATM systems manufacturers - have not had time to digest its implications.

But McMillan warns against throwing out the concept of FABs as a way of reaching the desired system performance objectives, because ATC centres will have to have a way of defining their responsibilities.

President and chief executive of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations, Marc Baumgartner, also emphasises that the division of airspace into sectors that individual air traffic control officers (ATCO) can handle will remain a need until ATCOs are provided with advanced predictive tools between 10 and 20 years from now.

McMillan and Baumgartner were speaking at the launch of a joint Eurocontrol/IFATCA publication, A collaborative approach to the future, which emphasises how human-centric the system will remain for the forseeable future, even as it advances.