Air Transport World

The headwinds of change

Eurocontrol claims to have halved flight delays over the last 10 years. But traffic, which keeps rising, wipes out its gains

BRUSSELS--Since its foundation by six nations 35 years ago, Eurocontrol has labored to try to smooth the path of the airlines, which on a busy day can generate as many as 26,000 flights, across the jigsaw puzzle that is European ATC.

Despite these efforts, delays to services in 1997 were at their highest level since 1990, and the forecast for this summer was for the same, or worse. This is according to the 27-carrier-strong Assn. of European Airlines, also based here, whose director general, ex-Lufthansa executive Karl-Heinz Neumeister, said: "The ATC administrators will tell you that throughout the 1990s, there has been a concerted effort at the political level to rationalize European airspace.

"It is correct that we have seen a lot of papers and good intentions. All the airline passenger needs to know is that these efforts were supposed to speed his progress from one airport to another. Evidently, they have failed to deliver. In the air, the situation is as bad as it was 10 years ago. We are back to where we were when the talking started. It's true that ATC has more flights to handle than 10 years ago. This is not something the airlines should apologize for."

AEA's conclusions are strenuously denied by Eurocontrol, which claims that the average delay suffered by each flight in Europe in fact has been halved since 1990. With traffic increasing steadily--Eurocontrol forecasts a 30% increase over 1995 by year 2000, 56% by 2005, 86% by 2010 and 121% by 2015--this represents an ATC capacity and productivity increase of up to 50%.

"A good measure of the success of the Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) is that the overwhelming majority of flights are not subject to any air-traffic-management-imposed delay, or flow restrictions," Eurocontrol said. "If the CFMU had not been established, the delays of the early 1990s would have multiplied, causing massive dislocation to airlines and inhibiting development of the single air transport market in Europe."

Wolfgang Philipp, Eurocontrol senior director-operations, paraded some of the advances that have been made: "In 1990, only 4-5 states had data exchange; the rest was voice. …

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