Claims by Europe's air traffic management agency, Eurocontrol, that the level of delays this year showed "encouraging signs" of improvement, have been angrily dismissed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Eurocontrol points out that delays in the first five months of this year were back to the same level as 1998, which it describes as "an enhancement" considering that traffic has increased by 15%since then. Average delays ran to 2.6min, marking a considerable improvement on the new records set in 1999 of 5min.

However, as Eurocontrol admits, last year's figure was exacerbated by the Kosovo conflict, which forced traffic to take alternative routes, while the introduction of a new route system over Switzerland and parts of France did not help the situation.

IATA complains that Eurocontrol is now unlikely to meet the delay targets set by transport ministers at the European Civil Aviation Conference in January. The promise was to bring the average delay down to 3.5min for 2000, while the forecast now is to end the year with an average hold-up of 4.1min.

IATA director general, Pierre Jeanniot, warns European air traffic service providers "to stop doing too little too late", adding that "the solutions are clear and possible."

Source: Airline Business