Launching the latest phase of the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) operational concept, Eurocontrol says the plan is, by 2019, to deliver an intelligent, networked system capable of optimising individual flight efficiency while maximising traffic flow through finite airspace and airports. Known as Reference Period 2 (RP2) of the Network Strategy Plan (NSP), the four-year programme is intended also to reduce the overall cost – and therefore the user charges – of the network.

The main components of the RP2 plan include: enabling European ATM to act progressively more like a single networked system rather than a series of linked units; integrating the management of flights through en-route, terminal airspace and airport operations so they work seamlessly together; and ensuring the readiness of the advanced information management systems – and the communications, navigation and surveillance equipment – that will enable the network to deliver a seamless, safer, cheaper and more efficient service.

By the end of the period, all departures and arrivals will be (respectively) continuous climb and continuous descent, all trajectories will be the most efficient the airspace available permits, with free routing above 31,000ft, and there will be no holding or extended approaches on arrival.

In parallel with the execution of the NSP, the processes of Europe’s ATM system are gradually being prepared for radical change. Rather than having the existing national air navigation service providers (ANSPs) continue to supply all the traditional air traffic control functions and infrastructure within a geographic region, Eurocontrol is moving to a concept of contracting out “centralised services”. These are functions or tasks that, today, all ANSPs share, but if centralised with a single manager or provider, they could be made far more efficient. In the second quarter of 2014, Eurocontrol invited “expressions of interest” in providing any of 18 different centralised services and received more than 400 proposals. An example of one of the areas tendered for is data communications services and telecommunication infrastructure.

Eurocontrol’s centralised services programme manager Herman Baret says implementing this concept is more difficult than it sounds, explaining: “This is probably one of the most difficult tasks that Eurocontrol has ever faced. Implementing key SESAR projects on a central pan-European basis, rather than nationally or regionally, may seem a common-sense idea, but as anyone who has been involved in the process will confirm, the institutional challenges are immense, the financial and technical issues complex and there are still uncertainties to be resolved over the regulatory regime.” But if management of all these functions were to be centralised, Eurocontrol estimates that €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) could be saved.