Business aviation across European airspace will face a series of squeezes if the rapid growth of commercial air traffic continues and there is no major investment in infrastructure and procedures, warns the head of Eurocontrol.
Speaking at an event on the eve of EBACE, Eamon Brennan, director-general of Eurocontrol – the organisation delivering air traffic management across the European continent – said European aviation faces significant issues, particularly with key targets for reducing carbon emissions approaching.
"The key one for me is, is the CO2 emissions," Brennan said. "Unless we take some significant regulatory action – what I mean by that is supporting sustainable alternative jet fuels, looking at a federal reorganisation of the European air traffic network to make sure that we're flying optimal flight profiles and that we are using the airspace in an efficient way – we are not going to achieve our targets. It's as simple as that!" he said.
Brennan said aircraft movements are likely to increase by almost 50%.
"By 2030 we are anticipating 55,000 flights (up from 37,000). The current system won't cope. It is really challenging. In Europe, significant reform processes are needed. Instead of the six big hub airports we have, like London Heathrow, you will have 18. Nobody is putting in additional runways."
For business aviation, this has serious implications. Already the main routes across central Europe are full of traffic from Asia and the Middle East. As summer traffic peaks, Eurocontrol will be using different airways to reduce the squeeze and spreading the traffic. For business and private aviation this could mean longer routes, meaning more time and more fuel.
Brennan said another threat could come from low-cost carriers. As the slot-restricted airports are faced with heavier demand, the LCCs will be pushed out.
"Low-cost operators will start to target bases that you have considered as yours,” Brennan warned an audience of operators, manufacturers and aviation services businesses.
He said Eurocontrol had seen a reduction in business aviation movements over the past year, with nearly all nations – except Norway – seeing a drop. "One of the key challenges you have is the low utilisation of aircraft," he said.
Brennan said Europe’s air navigation infrastructure is not ready for this growth. "It has not modernised the system to take advantage of technology," he said. "Certain providers are not putting capacity in. In terms of air traffic delays, Germany is one of the worst and the French feature very strongly. For the first time ever this summer, we have had to introduce very strong network measures.
Unlike the USA, with a single regulator, Eurocontrol has 41 member states, each with their own regulator. "The European air traffic network is basically inefficient. It's 50 years old; we haven't made significant changes for quite a long time. And we need to deal with that now. Without change, unlimited growth in Europe is fantasy."
Speaking about the sustainable fuels campaign at the heart of this year's EBACE, Brennan said: "By 2030, we've got to do significant things and governments have got to work with us. What they've got to do is provide us with political support, to introduce sustainable aviation fuels to change the network so that we can use it in an environmentally efficient, efficient way and look, too, at the noise effect on our communities. That's a big ask for politicians. They need to support aviation and support the environment and they need to stop placing national interests ahead of the overall interests of the European network, because we’re looking at the environment and achieving our 2030 targets."
Brennan admitted that ATC has been one of the barriers. "I am not proud of it, but Eurocontrol is giving pilots non-optimal flight levels. We are not going to hit our targets without sustainable fuels. We are working on continuous-descent approach, which is very good for the environment.
"Today's aircraft are already 80% more fuel efficient than they were in the 1960s, but we need more, but at the moment sustainable fuels are fantasy. It is difficult to get these in Europe. Policy makers have to do something very practical to incentivise take-up. Look at efforts in Europe to get rid of diesels. Not tax, but incentives. Make it cheaper, encourage biofuels through the Common Agricultural Policy. Less than 3% of the required fuel to run the industry in Europe is available. This stuff is too expensive. We have to do something to make SAJF [sustainable alternative jet fuel] cheaper and need a lot of goodwill to make it happen.”