As traffic again begins to grow, Victor Aguado, Eurocontrol's director general, highlights how Europe's air traffic management (ATM) co-ordinator is working to improve performance on five fronts: safety; capacity; cost-effectiveness; flight efficiency and the environment

In 2004 Europe saw a return to vigorous traffic growth, yet without accompanying delays. Never before have Europe's skies been so busy: the threshold of 29,500 daily flights was reached in September 2004. During that month, traditionally the busiest, there was 8% more traffic than in September 2001 and yet delays were down by 50%. Safety figures were also reassuring although vigilance cannot be allowed to slacken. And with the publication of the Strategic Safety Action Plan last year, Europe finally has an overall strategy covering everything from training to regulation.

But traffic growth continues. It is expected to come in at 4.8% for 2004 and could stay at this level over the next five to 10 years. As a result, more ATM capacity will be needed if we are to reach the target of only one minute of delay due to air traffic flow management per flight in 2006. In fact, capacity must increase by 20-25% before 2009 to reach this target. At the same time costs need to be reduced for airspace users and Eurocontrol is committed to doing all it can to make the ATM system more efficient.

The outlook for the future is positive but certain steps must be taken to ensure that the system continues to function well. Over the next decade, we have to do two things to make the European ATM system safe and efficient. First, we have to improve the existing system through optimisation. Second, we must prepare for the next generation of technology which is needed to cope with the forecast traffic.

ATM exists primarily to ensure safety and it must remain the prime concern. But when traffic doubles, risk is multiplied by four and by nine when it triples. Traffic has indeed tripled in the last 25 years, and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Our safety objective is that the absolute number of incidents/accidents should not increase, which means that the underlying rate must be divided by four when traffic has doubled, or by nine when it has tripled.

Punctuality too has improved. Until now, delays were mainly caused in the en-route phase. Now that this issue is being resolved, it is likely that airports could form the next bottleneck. `A large part of the capacity problem at airports is caused by runway congestion and Eurocontrol has a range of projects, tools and methodologies to help airports extract maximum use from their runways. These are already proving effective in the field.

Another area that could help optimise runway utilisation is to introduce sequencing through flow and capacity management so that traffic flows reach runways at even, predictable rates. It is a project under examination.

A comparison with the US ATM system carried out by Eurocontrol's Performance Review Commission indicated that the European system is more expensive than it could be. The US system handles twice as much traffic in the same volume of airspace, at only 15% more cost and with similar staffing.

A comparison of European air navigation service providers reveals great disparities in productivity and support cost ratios. Raising the average to the level of the third best provider would make for a 40%improvement in both areas.

There is real potential for substantial savings, providing higher levels of service and increased efficiency. Flights do not always take the most direct route from their point of departure to their destination, for several reasons:

·        aircraft often fly around large portions of airspace reserved for the military;

·        airlines may choose longer routes to avoid congested areas;

·        airlines may select routes over areas with lower charges.

There is room to progress here. A network view is needed. Eurocontrol is now planning a programme known as DMEAN (Dynamic Management of the European Airspace Network). It aims to improve the European ATM network as an integrated whole by drawing together flow and capacity management; improving route and network design and enhancing civil-military co-ordination.

Eurocontrol also takes note of environmental constraints, including noise and emissions, on all its projects. For example, a new project is now being run with the co-sponsorship of the European Space Agency. We are mapping the generation of cirrus clouds from contrails and will identify just how far these clouds force climate change. If the project confirms growing evidence that there is a link between traffic density, contrails and cirrus clouds with climate change impact, then there will be pressure for ATM to build contrail avoidance into flight planning.

The European Commission (EC) and Eurocontrol are collaborating in the management of ATM R&D through the Joint Programme Board. Together, they are responsible for 70% of European R&D funding in ATM.

Finally, there are long term programmes. Eurocontrol has secured funding under the TEN-T (Trans European Network - Transport) programme for the ATM Master Plan, which will contribute to the definition of the Single European Sky Implementation Programme, supported by the EC. The next-generation ATM system - designed, tested and developed through R&D - will enable us to make a quantum leap forward in ATM performance.

In these uncertain yet dynamic times, one fact is immutable. For the air transport industry to thrive, we need to have effective infrastructure as well as an effective ATM system to support it. That system must be safe, secure, efficient, cost-effective and have minimal impact on the environment. Eurocontrol is committed to developing just such a system, in tandem with all its partners.


Source: Airline Business