Air Transport World

Sweet harmony; Europe is striving to turn its ATC network from the cacophony of massed soloists to playing in concert. (air traffic control)

Horror stories of European air-traffic control inefficiencies and congestion are too well-known to have any kind o impact, taken individually. Perhaps a litany of miseries will get the point across: Nearly one third of all German traffic experiences ATC delays. Frankfurt-seville flights traverse 11 ATC centers and four countries. Random air-traffic controller strikes not only shut down their nations' traffic but also choke neighboring nations' airspace with rerouted transit traffic. Forty-four ATC centers are handling airspace half the size of what 20 centers control in the U.S.

The 22 separate European ATC systems were selected by national governments according to their individual budgets and specifications, with scant regard for communication or data exchanges with neighboring systems, let alone integration. Separation standards vary from five to 60 nm. Europe doesn't hope to have complete radar coverage until 1995 at the earliest. Annual costs of delays for airlines and passengers are $5 billion. The cost to national economies will grow to $10 billion per year by the year 2000.

The root of Europe's ATC predicament is not technical, although some of the solutions are. Rather, it is the failure to develop a political will to act among the many nations that separate the multitudes of people. Also troublesome is the varying ability of European nations to pay for and operate sophisticated ATC systems.

Issues of sovereignty, protectionism and distrust hobble unified ATC efforts to a greater extent, it seems, than most issues of trade and self-defense.

Ben Visser, member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, told a Brussels gathering of airport executives that ATC is a "major problem in Europe, badly organized and dominated by national interest."

All of the problems, all of the shortcomings of European ATC were brought dramatically light when the traffic balloon in the summers of 1987/88 pushed the system well beyond its capacity. The public outcry and the obvious nature of the problem the nations together to find solutions. Most responsive to the complaints were the transport ministers of the European Civil Aviation Conference countries, who met in April, 1990 and resolved to integrate European ATC systems progressively. ECAC membership recently reached 28 nations with the addition of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. But 23 nations have agreed to the unified action.

Now, there is the semblance of agreement on a course of action. …

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