Eurocontrol delivers stark warning as air traffic booms

Eurocontrol is warning that the growth of European air traffic to record levels this summer has not been accompanied by sufficient action by some member states to improve air traffic management (ATM) safety.

Some countries are experiencing a serious shortage of expert resources to monitor the safety improvements called for in Eurocontrol’s ATM rulemaking process, the Brussels-based agency says.

The need for a fresh approach to ATM safety in Europe was dramatically underscored by the mid-air collision at Überlingen, Germany, in 2002, and the runway collision at Milan Linate airport the previous year. The accidents led to a major review of European ATM safety in which a number of weak areas were identified, including manpower shortages.

The principal mechanisms for enforcing ATM safety rules are the Eurocontrol Safety Regulatory Requirements (ESARR). ESARR 1, which is due to become law in November 2007, states that national service providers shall regularly monitor and assess safety levels and provide adequate human resources to do so.

“ESARR 1 needs more expertise and resources than a single person and an assistant,” says Erik Merckx, Eurocontrol’s head of safety enhancement. He says one of the problems is the direct result of the lower salaries paid in many countries to regulators compared to air traffic controllers (ATCO). “As a result there is little incentive for ATCOs to move to the regulatory side,” says Merckx.

Another issue is the continued failure of many national ATM service providers to set up safety management systems (SMS) as required under ESARR 3. Eurocontrol says safety management is “that function of service provision which ensures that all safety risks have been identified, assessed and satisfactorily mitigated”. According to Merckx, around 50% of states have now got a good SMS in place, “but others still have to go a long way. Passengers can only continue to feel safe when all countries have their SMS fully in place,” he says.

European traffic increased to record levels during the summer, while delays for the period remained around the same as for the last two years.

During June, July and August the number of flights in the 35-country Eurocontrol region increased by 4.4% compared with the same period in 2004, to 2.53 million.


Source: Flight International