Every day in Europe, aircraft take to the skies more than 30,000 times, and this summer is predicted to be one of the busiest ever in European airspace. Traffic numbers from June 29–when there were 33,480 flights–bear out this prediction.
Eurocontrol’s Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) based in Brussels, Belgium, was created in 1995 with the main task of allocating takeoff slots for flights throughout Europe and imposing restrictions when traffic exceeded safe ATC capacity limits.
As the number of flights in Europe increases, the role of the CFMU is constantly expanding, and the unit has outgrown its original facilities. A new operations room costing €100 million ($137 million) was inaugurated in Brussels on July 3. The new facility consolidates the three essential functions of the CFMU: providing complete and real-time information on airspace and infrastructure across the continent; maintaining the Integrated Flight Plan System (IFPS), which centralizes all European flight plans; and providing flow and capacity management.
In addition to playing a key role in developing the Single European Sky (SES), the CFMU has essential functions in the European air traffic management system for enhancing safety, promoting security, securing capacity and helping to mitigate the effects of aviation on the environment. By monitoring and responding to changes in capacity, the CFMU has helped to raise Europe’s airspace capacity by approximately 10,000 flights each day. Estimates suggest that without the unit delays would more than triple, costing aircraft operators €1.5 billion ($2 billion) a year.
Thanks to the IFPS, the CFMU provides a Europe-wide alerting service in case an aircraft (or an operator) that has been banned for safety reasons tries to enter the community’s airspace. The CFMU also provides environmental benefits: better capacity management and flight routing have reduced fuel consumption by 300,000 tonnes annually.
Fernando Conte, president of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), pointed out that airlines cannot wait until 2020 for the full benefits of the Single European Sky to materialize. He added that future tasks of the new operations room should include an extension of the planning and control horizons in the future ATM network, moving from a tactical system that primarily manages individual flights to a more strategic system that manages trajectories and optimizes flows.
“To achieve that, swift and instantaneous exchange of information between all stakeholders is required so that decision-making can be facilitated,” Conte said.
A CFMU User Forum is scheduled for September 19 and 20. To register for the event, visit the CFMU Web site: www.cfmu.eurocontrol.int.