Air traffic service providers' body the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) is warning that air traffic management (ATM) charges are set to rise considerably next year.
The body says it empathises with airlines' current economic plight, but CANSO stresses it has to both maintain its services and be ready with capacity when the upturn comes.
CANSO secretary general Alexander ter Kuile says there is only one alternative, which is for the airlines to agree cuts in services provided, because the air navigation services providers (ANSP) have a large fixed cost base and movements have declined by up to 20% in many regions.
He says that ANSPs are cutting flexible costs where they can, but the infrastructure cost is immutable, and he forecasts "major" increases to charges everywhere, but particularly in Europe because of the way the regional agreed cost recovery system works.
© Alisdair Macdonald/REX Features
The mathematics is simple, says the CANSO chief, the charges equal ANSP costs divided by the number of movements, so with the number of movements down about 20% charges will inevitably rise.
Ter Kuile says ANSPs are already "collapsing" sectors, which allows reduced manning when traffic is low. This is an extension of a practise that already exists.
Examples of what airlines may have to agree to, he explains, include restricting late night manning at some regional airports when they have only one or two air movements, or even closing them, which means the airlines would have to abandon some services and eliminate the airports as potential diversions.
Ter Kuile observes that this situation shows the European cost recovery model in its true colours. It has been conceived on the assumption that traffic will grow, and the airlines accepted it on that basis because they benefit accordingly. The trouble is, he says, when traffic drops the situation is not going to please the carriers, who are left to foot the bill.