Eurocontrol's Council has delayed until October a decision on whether to approve plans to consider granting the air navigation organisation regulatory powers to force member states to make urgent air traffic management (ATM) improvements. The move comes as Europe's air traffic control (ATC) system is facing a summer crisis due to growing traffic levels and the lack of capacity.

The Eurocontrol council had been expected to approve the Brussels-based agency's initial proposal for regulatory powers at a meeting on 16 July. Eurocontrol had hoped that this month's meeting would give it the green light to start detailed work on the plan ready for consideration by the ruling body of the 28-member state organisation at its November meeting and presentation to Europe's transport ministers in January. The proposal will be discussed at an extraordinary Council meeting in October.

The drive towards a regulatory process to help resolve Europe's ATC crisis comes against a background of growing concern by airlines, governments and Eurocontrol over the prospect of long air traffic delays in the region this summer.

In advance of council approval of a regulation process for the organisation, Eurocontrol has already started work on possible contractual arrangements which would ensure compliance by states and their air navigation service providers on agreed ATM objectives and deadlines.

The proposed regulatory process, which would be similar to the US notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), would provide Eurocontrol with the power to enforce ATM programmes.

Eurocontrol's "bad experience" with the implementation of basic area navigation (B-RNAV) - the deadline for which was postponed twice due to the lack of compliance by operators - and states' failure to meet ATC improvement deadlines has forced the move to a European NPRM (ENPRM), says Wolfgang Philipp, senior director of Eurocontrol.

The regulatory process would initially focus on ATM issues, but could include safety and economic regulations, he suggests.

Before the council's decision to postpone consideration of the ENPRM, Philipp had hoped that the current crisis could speed up the rule-making process. According to June figures, average daily traffic reached a record high of 25,126 movements, with 6,977 daily flights delayed for 201,521min. This compares with daily traffic of 23,335 and delays of 119,883min in June last year.

Europe experienced "a very bad situation" in the second quarter of the year, partly due to the Kosovo crisis, with airspace restrictions in much of the region. The ATC system, however, is reaching its capacity limit throughout Europe. Unless action is taken to implement Eurocontrol's ATM-2000+ strategy, the system will consistently fail, warns Philipp.

For short-term improvement, Eurocontrol is focusing on the sectors and area control centres where most delays originate. It has also asked member states to provide data on their capacity enhancement plans to identify capacity shortfalls from 2002-5.

Future capacity improvements will rely on airspace reorganisation, including the reduced vertical separation minimum from 2002.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is to present transport ministers with a plan aimed at accelerating ATC capacity growth. IATA director general Pierre Jeanniot seeks meetings with nations seen as crucial to increasing short- term capacity, thought to be France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Germany.

IATA's plan includes:

• ensuring rapid progress toward a common airspace policy for European Civil Aviation Conference states, common rulemaking and speedy implementation;

• investing Eurocontrol with regulatory powers;

• privatising or corporatising all national ATS providers;

• devising efficiency incentives for ATS providers;

• implementing an ECAC-wide capacity planning system.

Source: Flight International