The new director general of Europe’s intergovernmental ATC organization proposes that air navigation service providers (ANSPs) implement Single European Sky improvements at the regional level rather than as individual entities, both to constrain costs and improve operational efficiency.
In a speech at the World ATM Congress in Madrid on Wednesday, Eurocontrol director general Frank Brenner sounded a recurring theme at the conference—the pressing need to unify Europe’s fragmented airspace jurisdictions. Brenner succeeded David McMillan as Eurocontrol’s chief executive in January.
Aircraft operators in Europe now pay twice as much per controlled flight hour as do operators in the U.S., according to Brenner. In the past, he said, the continent’s ANSPs could stretch cost increases over increasing numbers of flights. But with air traffic depressed in Europe, that will not be an option for ANSPs to invest in new, efficiency-producing technologies being generated by the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) effort. In its forthcoming medium-term air traffic forecast, Eurocontrol will predict that air traffic this year will decline relative to 2012, Brenner said.
European Union member states are also lagging in reorganizing the continent’s airspace into nine regional air traffic management entities, or functional airspace blocks (FABs), as required by Single European Sky regulations. “It is also clear that the functional airspace blocks will take rather longer than some people had hoped to produce major operational benefits, and this reflects the underlying issue of fragmentation,” he said. “Europe is unfortunately still a patchwork of sovereign countries, each with its own air navigation service provider, its own control centers.”
Brenner, who was formerly general manager of operations of Functional Airspace Block Europe Central (Fabec), which represents six countries, said ANSPs should implement a limited set of Sesar initiatives at the FAB level. “We have to ask the question: does it make sense for each ANSP to implement all of the approximately 300 [Sesar] ideas in each and every one of our approximately 80 European [ATC] centers? Perhaps there is the possibility of saving money by looking at solutions on the level of the nine functional airspace blocks in Europe or even at a pan-European level rather than at a national or local level,” he said.
Eurocontrol has evaluated the Sesar initiatives and determined that 70 to 90 projects would make economic sense to deploy at the FAB level, with another 10 projects applicable for the entire airspace management network. “Each FAB could share the equipment and develop common procedures,” Brenner said. “We expect this could significantly reduce costs and thereby contribute to achieving the [future] performance targets.”