Airspace capacity in Europe will increase with the release of military areas for civil use, but airlines must adopt a more flexible approach to flight planning if they are to make the most of it, says Eurocontrol.

On 28 March a new policy adopted by all European Civil Aviation Conference members termed 'flexible use of airspace' was implemented by 15 of Ecac's 33 members. Twenty-three members will have adopted the measures by the end of 1996, with full implementation in place by February 1998.

Airspace previously reserved solely for military use can now be designated as: permanently available for civil use; available on a day to day basis; or on an ad hoc basis.

'We have gone away from civil airspace and military airspace. Now we just have airspace,' says Alex Hendricks, head of airspace and navigation at Eurocontrol.

For airline flight planners to make full use of this they must switch from a set, repetitive six-month plan to a more dynamic plan which can be changed the day before leaving, says Hendricks. He says KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways and several US carriers have already consulted Eurocontrol about the software needed to accommodate more fluid scheduling. Military officials agreed to the programme on the basis that they would still have access to airspace if required and it would translate into greater air traffic control capacity in Europe.

In the UK, Bill Semple, chief operating officer of newly incorporated National Air Traffic Services (Nats), estimates the flexible use of airspace will increase capacity by 10 per cent. Semple says the UK has already freed up some military airspace and will see less of a capacity increase than other countries.

Nats has just become a subsidiary of the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, in a move which separates the service regulator and the service provider, says Semple. It is the latest ATC to be hived off from a government body, with Canada's system due to be sold to the not-for-profit organisation, Nav Canada, for C$1.5 billion later this year.

But the US has left behind the politically charged concept of ATC privatisation in favour of broad new rules making procurement and personnel decision-making more efficient and private-sector based. In late March, the Federal Aviation Administration announced its employees will have more discretion and receive performance-pay increases for achieving new acquisition goals. These include cutting in half the time required to install new ATC equipment and reducing costs by 20 per cent.

Financing for the quicker-response procurement system had not been announced at presstime. However, one controversial but probable idea is charging non-US airlines overflight fees for the use of US airports and equipment. n

S Guild/M Jennings

Source: Airline Business