Pan-European air navigation agency Eurocontrol is expecting the European fleet of business aircraft to rise by around 4% annually to some 3,000 by 2015.

The projections are the result of a study, titled Getting to the Point, conducted in the wake of concerns expressed last year that growth in very light jets could present a future problem for air traffic management in Europe.

Eurocontrol says that the business aviation segment has grown twice as fast as the rest of the traffic since 2001. About 6.9% of instrument flight rules operations in Europe last year were conducted by business aviation. Flights by business jets were up by 8.9% in 2005, while turboprop flights rose by 2.4%.

The agency is forecasting that the trend will result in 1,100 additional flights per day in European airspace by 2015, or as many as 1,800 if a high-growth scenario emerges from rapid development of the very light jet market.

“Business aviation is a traffic sector which is growing and changing rapidly,” says Eurocontrol data analysis division head Conrad Cleasby. “It has, however, been relatively poorly documented.”

The network connected by business aviation has about 100,000 city pairs, three times the number in the scheduled-flight network. But this business network carries far less traffic and, in some cases, aircraft are flying empty on positioning flights for as much as 40% of the time.

Although there is relatively little business aviation traffic, the study says, it generates “more and bigger” unanticipated peaks of demand at airports than does scheduled traffic at similarly-sized airports.

“This therefore consumes a disproportionate amount of flow-management resources,” it says. “Procedures for giving business aviation access to capacity-constrained airports could be standardised and improved from both the business aviation and air traffic management perspectives.”

While business aircraft use different flight levels from other aircraft types, adds the study, transferring them to their preferred levels generates additional traffic complexity for controllers.

Eurocontrol director of air traffic management strategies Bo Redeborn says: “Aviation stakeholders need to examine these issues in order to ensure that we will be able to handle the predicted growth in business aviation both safely and efficiently.”

Source: Flight International