Julian Moxon/PARIS

MULTIPLE FLIGHT-plan bookings by "unscrupulous" airlines using Eurocontrol's new central flow-management unit (CFMU) are causing significant delays for traffic using French and Swiss airspace, says the head of the CFMU unit.

The problem centres on the CFMU's recently introduced automated flight-plan processing system, which allows operators to file as many flight plans as they wish. Some book up to ten a day to give them extra departure flexibility, but then fail to cancel unused plans.

Eurocontrol says that it has told operators "very forcefully" to stop the practice. "The main culprits are the charter airlines," says CFMU chief Dirk Duytschaever. "If it continues, the single most important problem facing us will be because of the airlines, not because of the system," he adds. Eurocontrol is asking national civil-aviation administrations to put pressure on the airlines in question, and threatens legal action if they continue.

The CFMU now operates over France and Switzerland only, but will soon extend its remit to cover airspace allocation in Germany, the UK, and other European countries. Duytschaever says that there is "no guarantee" that the problem will not occur in these countries as well.

According to Duytschaever, there is a non-linear knock-on effect resulting from block booking because European airspace is congested, and operates on what in known as a "constraint" system. On one day, for example, when Eurocontrol found that 10% of plans had not been used, departure delays increased by 38%. "You get a far bigger effect than apparent from a small disturbance," he says.

Eurocontrol is virtually powerless to act. "We cannot throw flight plans in the dustbin," says Duytschaever. "If they want to go through an area where there is no restriction they get a slot. It is because of the inherent flexibility on the system, which is very powerful." Previously, airlines had to file their flight plans manually. "The system would not cater for second slots," he adds. "It is the processing power of the new system that allows them to experiment with it".

Source: Flight International