Air Transport World


While all parties agree on the causes and solutions for ATC-related delays in Europe, a single European sky doesn't seem possible

We have arrived at the threshold of a new dimension for civil aviation in Europe. The inadequacy of the air traffic system has become apparent. Relying on local or national solution by individual parties within the aviation system will not take us any further. If we do not wish to see aviation strangulated we will have to tackle the problem in two areas: Technically and politically."

This message from Capt. Martin Gaeble is clear and direct. The unbelievable and even pathetic part is that the former member of the board of Lufthansa German Airlines spoke these words during the celebration of Eurocontrol's 25th birthday in 1987.

His successor, Capt. Juergen Raps, senior VP-flight operations at Lufthansa, acknowledges the absurdity of the situation: "Many of these messages conveyed in 1987 would still be valid when I talk now about our expectations for the year 2015. We would need to upgrade most figures and use some new terminology, e.g., air traffic management instead of air traffic control, but what has really changed over the last ten years?"

Statistics prove that some things have changed, but not necessarily for the better. AEA Secretary General Karl-Heinz Neumeister shakes his head when analyzing the percentage of departures delayed more than 15 min. that his 27 member airlines had to endure in the past decade . "The delay rate of the first nine months of '99 tends to show worse figures than in '98, which was a record year for delays and which had delay rates that came close to the unacceptable figure of '89," he says.

Indeed AEA had been ringing the alarm bell 10 years earlier and published in August 1989 the study "Towards a Single System for Air Traffic Control in Europe." Says Neumeister: "We analyzed the situation and we distilled as major causes too many different standards, too many national ATC systems, the lack of harmonization across borders and the absence of decision-making machinery. It is as if time has stood still; the same reasons cause today's delays."

Europe currently counts 49 control centers and 31 national ATC systems. They use equipment made by 18 different manufacturers and software written in 30 programming languages. AEA calculated that the total cost penalties of the fragmented approach to ATC in Europe would rise from an estimated $4.2 billion in 1988 to more than $31.5 billion in 2000. Air France has put the cost of the delays last summer at around $350,000 a day.

According to a recent study by Eurocontrol, modernization of ATC systems would help cut fuel consumption by at least 7%. …

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