Last year saw a decline in European air traffic management efficiency by almost every measure, and industrial action was the largest single factor, according to the Eurocontrol Performance Review Unit's report on 2010.

In summer 2010, said the report, en-route air traffic flow management (ATFM) delays more than doubled to 1.2min to 2.8min/flight, which is the highest level since 2001 and almost three times higher than the agreed target of 1min/flight. The report says: "Although traffic grew by 3.1% compared to summer 2009, traffic was still below 2007 levels. At the same time, en-route ATFM delays per flight increased by 134% compared to summer 2009."

While the dip in traffic as a result of the ash cloud in April/May 2010 is evident, the review unit noted that "the impact in terms of en-route ATFM delay was small because flights were cancelled instead of delayed". Some 90% of en-route ATFM delays were concentrated in a comparatively small number of area control centres - only 17 out of 67 - which negatively affected the entire European network.

European ATM chart

These disruptive events included specific events such as industrial action in France and Spain, which not only resulted in high en-route ATFM delays but also had "a negative impact on flight efficiency and cancellations", driving up unit costs, route lengths and global warming emissions. In addition, preparation for implementation of a human factors management system in Rhein and Langen control centres, while the "southeast axis" -Austria, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus - "remains of major concern. Capacity issues are compounded by high traffic growth, particularly in Zagreb and Nicosia".

However, the majority of control centres, said the review unit, "continued the improvements made in previous years or maintained a good level of performance in 2010". The unit's executive summary cites UK, Italy, the Czech Republic and Portugal as good performers in efficiency terms.

Meanwhile, the report makes clear its concern about findings regarding safety monitoring standards among large numbers of Europe's air navigation service providers, explaining: "The apparent improvement on high severity incidents should be taken with caution. The unsatisfactory situation on incident reporting on a European-level requires urgent attention; this includes high numbers of unreported incidents, late provision of final data, and a high number of incident reports still remaining under investigation and or not 'severity classified'."

Source: Flight International