Europe's air traffic management body, Eurocontrol, is warning of capacity problems next year as a pick up in economic growth looks set to bring record levels of air traffic.Eurocontrol warns that air traffic management (ATM) will come under heavy pressure in 2004 as it copes with increased flying due both to the resumption of economic growth and with the expected increase in intra-regional traffic from the 10 new countries set to join European Union next year.

The caution comes as traffic starts to climb back to the peak levels before the crisis of 11 September 2001. The third quarter of 2003 had the highest ever number of flights. A new record was set on 12 September with 28,173 flights across the region. The total number of flights in the September quarter was also up 2.6% The month of September itself averaged the highest ever level of daily flights, at 25,756.

For third quarter, at least, the news was relatively encouraging, with ATM-related delays down by 58% compared to the previous busiest September quarter back in 2001.

'The figures over the past three months show some recovery in the air transport industry and demonstrate that growth in air traffic can go hand in hand with reduced delays,' says Victor Aguado, director general of Eurocontrol.

The previously chronic delay situation in Europe has shown signs of improving over the last two years as new projects come on stream while traffic levels remained subdued. The improvement in delay figures has coincided with the introduction of reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM) in 2002. At the recent European Regions Airline Association General Assembly in Dublin, director general Mike Ambrose noted a 'tremendous improvement' in the delay situation compared with five years ago.

Eurocontrol warns, however, that the anticipated increase in traffic levels from next year will require ATM capacity to be increased by between 25-30% over the next five years.

The Association of European Airlines has expressed fears that the problem of delays, which reached its peak in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict with over 30% of flights delayed by over 15 minutes, is set to return as traffic levels pick up. Both ACI Europe, Europe's airport body, and Eurocontrol have warned that airport-related delays are also likely to move up the agenda as the scarcity of new capacity becomes increasingly apparent.


Source: Airline Business