Complete restructuring of Franco-Swiss, German and Central European airspace is the best solution to Europe's air traffic management (ATM) woes in the short and medium term, reveals a report by Eurocontrol's Performance Review Commission (PRC).

The second report issued by the PRC, which comprises 12 independent airline and air traffic control experts, suggests that delays caused by air traffic flow management (ATFM) in the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) countries for this year will reach 42 million minutes. The cost of these delays to airspace users from January-September alone is in excess of c900 million ($963 million), says the PRC. The commission warns that ATFM delays could be three to five times worse than 1999 levels by 2005.

The present capacity shortfall in ECAC is 11% on average, peaking at 20% in Switzerland, says the PRC. The greatest medium term benefits would come from restructuring German airspace and that of the Franco-Swiss region, yielding a 30% capacity improvement in each. Airspace restructuring in central and eastern Europe could generate an additional 10%.

Airspace reorganisation is under way with the latest version of Europe's air traffic services route network (ARN). The ARN, introduced in February, saw a major restructure of French and Swiss airspace. Although delays increased immediately after implementation, because of capacity restrictions to ensure safety, "significant improvements" are now evident, says the PRC. Further improvements are expected with the next ARN, which will affect Germany. The PRC stresses, however, that "the full potential of airspace redesign does not appear to be attainable in the present circumstances". National considerations are still interfering in airspace redesign, it says.

PRC recommendations include:

• a special Eurocontrol Council session should be called to discuss the delay crisis;

• air traffic service providers should publish five-year capacity plans annually and must deliver agreed capacity;

• Eurocontrol should commission an independent study into how to optimise the capacity use;

• an Airspace Policy Commission should be set up by 30 June to decide on the best use of airspace.

Source: Flight International