Hopes for the creation of a common central European upper-airspace air-traffic-management centre have been revived with a new initiative aimed at producing a signature from the eight involved nations on 27 June.

The Central European Air Traffic Services (CEATS) project, which includes Austria, Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, northern Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia, has already been delayed more than two years by differences of opinion on siting of the centre and over the timetable for its implementation.

At an International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting of civil-aviation authority directors on 29 April in Paris, an unexpected agreement was reached on a text for the CEATS protocol. Hungary (now holding the presidency of the Eurocontrol permanent committee) has been asked to send a letter to CEATS transport ministers inviting them to discuss the text at a Eurocontrol working meeting on the agency's convention on 6 June.

This could lead to a final signature when the Eurocontrol transport ministers meet in Brussels on 27 June to sign the final convention agreement.

Eurocontrol's director-general, Yves Lambert, says that he is "very optimistic" that a deal will be struck. "The idea is to start in early 1998, with full operation in 2005," he says. CEATS members who are complaining that the 27 June date is too early "-will be able to sign later", he adds.

Introduction of the CEATS would essentially create a "free-flight" zone covering an area in central Europe larger than France. This, in turn, could theoretically be joined to the existing French/Swiss and Maastricht northern Europe common air-traffic-controlareas to create an upper-airspace free-route area covering virtually the whole of mainland Europe.

Lambert says that Eurocontrol is acting both as a "broker" to the agreement, and as the possible future operator, "-although our role might be limited to planning, with a multi-national group running day-to-day operations". The Ceats would be "fully compatible"with Eatchip, the European Air Traffic Control Harmonisation and Integration Programme, he adds.

The deal remains fraught with problems, however, not least because the Czech Republic and Hungary have gone ahead with new air-traffic-management centres of their own to solve growing traffic congestion in the area. Lambert says, however, that the much-delayed in-service date for the Ceats will "-allow the full benefit of these systems to be realised" before the future system comes on line.

Source: Flight International