Julian Moxon/PARIS

Continued air traffic congestion in France has led to renewed calls for more capacity at Paris' two main airports. But airlines which file more than one flightplan in an attempt to obtain the air traffic control (ATC) take-off slot they want are under criticism for causing the problem.

A monthly "hit list" of airlines accused of abusing the flight plan system is issued to member states and ATC organisations by Eurocontrol. It reveals carriers which repeatedly offend by filing multiple flight plans, allegedly adding to the pressure on an already overloaded air traffic flow management (ATFM)system.

The French air-traffic controllers union has denounced the practice as "cheating" and is demanding tougher action.

France hosts Europe's busiest airspace in terms of kilometres flown, and delays have been increasing during the busy summer season. Air France is complaining that its much-vaunted hourly "Shuttle" service to the three main provincial cities (Nice, Marseille and Toulouse) is unable to maintain timetable schedules, with delays reaching up to three hours during peak periods.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that the problem results partly from the change from the old system - when flight plans were filed individually to the national flow management centres - to the Europe-wide computer-based system now run by Eurocontrol's central flow management unit (CFMU).

Airlines can now file second or third "probing" flight plans in an attempt to get a take-off slot a few minutes earlier than the one originally received. This, says IATA, "causes the CFMU to work on the basis that there is more demand than there actually is. The overall delay therefore goes up". He adds that the ATFM system is now "very near to capacity, so such false demands "have to be seen as an abuse of the system". The flight plan problem accounts for a possible five percent of the total delays.

IATA says it remains "totally committed" to the fundamental need for more airspace, more runways and ATC capacity.

Several French airlines are demanding that the previous government's limit on the number of movements at Paris/ Orly airport, 250,000 per year, be increased, and that the new government should move ahead with a third runway at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Source: Flight International