Disagreement over whether Europe will meet its 2020 targets for air traffic management (ATM) modernisation emerged today at the ATC Global Conference in Amsterdam.
Head of Europe's single European sky ATM research (SESAR) project Patrick Ky insists that the implementation of the European ATM Master Plan is on track and can remain that way.
But Daniel Weder, chief executive officer of Swiss air navigation service provider (ANSP) Skyguide, says the fall in traffic predictions caused by the economic situation since 2008 means targets will slip.
The director general of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation Graham Lake also referrs to the tendency for ATM to slip down government priorities lists unless the need to act was imminent, adding that "economic necessity will drive behaviour". While European states have signed up to the SESAR programme, at times like this they "think nationally", Lake says.
Eurocontrol's director general David McMillan says the new European ATM system could become financially self-sustaining if the potential of long-term investment was recognised in the industry, but added: "We might need some pump-priming money from governments and we may not get it the way things are." McMillan predicts growth will return and the system has to be ready for it, but he clearly had in mind the recent Eurocontrol forecast: traffic in 2012 is set to fall by 1.3% compared with 2011, which will put it 5% lower than the levels that had been assumed for planning purposes this year.
Meanwhile, there were frequent references in debate to the European ATM project being "stuck on a roundabout", although Ky insists that the SESAR programme is on track and continues to deliver.
"Technology is not the problem," Ky says, adding that the problem was agreeing what you want to do with the technology.
"The paradigm shift will come from a synchronised adoption" of the new systems by the stakeholders, Ky says.
The senior staff adviser to the US secretary for Transportation on the NextGen ATM programme, Karlin Toner, agrees with Ky that the the technology is there, and all that is needed to make it happen is coordinated action.