Emma Kelly/LONDON

France, Switzerland and the UK accounted for almost half of all air traffic flow management (ATFM) delays in European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) airspace in the peak summer months of last year, according to figures released by the region's air navigation organisation Eurocontrol.

The figures show there was considerable improvement on the crisis summer of 1999, although airport-related delays are rising as Europe's airports struggle to cope with traffic growth.

ATFM delays for May-September 2000 were down by 29% on the same period a year earlier. The summer of 1999, however, was affected by unforeseen disruption - due to the end of hostilities in the Balkans and the resulting large number of humanitarian flights to the region.

A comparison of delays with a more typical year (1997) shows that delays last summer were up 21%, but overall traffic between summer 1997 and summer 2000 increased by more than half a million flights - "the equivalent of building two new airports the size of Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt", says Eurocontrol. More than 80% of airports in the ECAC region saw traffic increases.

The average delay per movement was 4.6min (6.7min in 1999), with the number of delayed flights decreasing by 13% and flights delayed by 15min or more falling by 21%. The number of delays of more than 60min fell by 62%.

Despite efforts to reduce traffic bottlenecks in France and Switzerland, these countries, and the UK, continued to make a major contribution to delays, with France accounting for 21.5%, Switzerland 13.3% and the UK 13%. The number of delays decreased in Italy, Switzerland, Spain and France, but increased in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and at Eurocontrol's upper area control centre in the Netherlands.

Delays caused by airport issues, including lack of capacity, parking problems and low visibility procedures, increased from 11% to 19%, with Athens, Amsterdam, Paris and Milan suffering particularly large delays. But there were improvements at Iraklion, Oslo and Florence.

Eurocontrol's council has set a target of 2.8min average en route delay per flight for this summer in addition to the overall ATFM average delay target of 3.5min.

Source: Flight International