Germany's DFS Drives ATM Efficiency Using Technology

 - April 14, 2014, 11:23 AM
Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, DFS chairman and CEO, said the German air navigation service provider aims to be an international leader. (Photo: DFS)

German air navigation service provider DFS (Deutsche Flugsicherung), which has criticized air traffic management (ATM) performance targets sought by the European Commission, announced 2013 results showing improved management of Germany’s airspace, which has Europe’s highest traffic volume.

Figures published on April 9 showed that DFS controllers currently manage around 10,000 flights in German airspace each day, and about three million movements annually. The total number of movements declined by 1.4 percent to 2.953 million last year, reflecting ongoing stagnation in traffic volume, DFS said. Through March this year, aircraft movements grew just 0.6 percent from the prior-year period despite a mild winter, it noted.

At the same time, DFS is driving efficiency gains, implementing “management initiatives…in those areas prone to delays in the past.” Nearly 98 percent of DFS-controlled flights in German airspace last year had no ATC-related delays, a 2-percent improvement, the air navigation service provider (ANSP) said. Overall staffing has declined from 6,103 employees at the end of 2012 to 5,990 currently.

In March, the European Parliament passed amended Single European Sky (SES) legislation the European Commission proposed to expedite ATM modernization on the continent. Among changes, the so-called “SES 2+” package calls for “full organizational and budgetary separation” of national authorities from the ATC organizations they oversee; opening ATC support services to competitive bidding; and strengthening ATM performance targets. DFS, a state-owned company, conducted its own analysis, which showed that European ANSP performance is “clearly better than assumed. Still, more efficiency is possible, but not in terms as planned by the European Commission…The rigorous cost saving measures by the EC are not realistic,” the German ANSP said.

During his annual press briefing April 9 in Langen, Germany, chairman and CEO Klaus-Dieter Scheurle said DFS is making advances through technology. “We want to drive change,” he said. “We want to be a trusted provider of modern air navigation services technology. And we want to be a leader on the international scene.”

Last year, DFS started operating a precision approach monitor (PAM) at Frankfurt Airport, drawing aircraft surveillance data from a Thales-installed wide area multilateration (WAM) system. The PAM updates aircraft position every second instead of every five seconds on radar screens at the Langen control center south of Frankfurt, enabling quicker identification and correction of route deviations. “This is the first operational WAM system in Germany and was specially developed for use in congested airspace. It is one-of-a-kind worldwide with respect to its size and performance capabilities,” DFS said.

The ANSP is working with the national German Aerospace Center (DLR) to develop a “sectorless” ATM system that would eliminate ATC sectors in upper airspace, reducing the number of flight handovers and improving overall productivity. This would “represent a paradigm shift in the world of air navigation services,” DFS said. It is also pursuing “remote tower” technology that would enable controllers to manage small and regional airports from remote locations. Future plans call for introducing remote control of the Dresden, Erfurt and Saarbrücken airports from the ATC tower in Leipzig.