U.S., Europe plan for next-gen systems

 - June 9, 2008, 6:35 AM

In a briefing sponsored by the Flight Safety Foundation in Wash- ington last month, David McMillan, director general of Eurocontrol, told aviation media that the European Union’s Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) program must have similar systems to the FAA’s NextGen to ensure interoperability.

Eurocontrol is working with air navigation service providers (ANSPs), airport authorities, the airlines and industry to facilitate the implementation of ADS-B, an essential element in Sesar and the U.S. NextGen program.

Airlines participating in the ADS-B Pioneer Airlines Project have identified 70 airports across Europe where they think ADS-B could most usefully be deployed, and Eurocontrol will now approach the ANSPs concerned to determine the feasibility of implementation.

Eurocontrol’s primary objective is to develop a seamless, pan-European air traffic management system that fully copes with the growth of air traffic while maintaining safety, reducing costs and respecting the environment.

McMillan identified the various challenges facing air traffic management, including environmental concerns, increased globalization and the constant efforts to maintain and improve safety standards in an industry that is growing from 27,000 daily flights now to almost 50,000 by the year 2020.

“The environment is a big issue in Europe.” He added that a major constraint on growth is airport saturation, including runway capacity given local environmental objections to new runways.

Staff and Capacity Becoming Scarce

Currently Europe logs about 10 million flights a year, with peaks of more than 4,000 flights an hour. With the number of flights growing by an average of 5 percent
a year, there is strong pressure
on Europe’s 15,000 air traffic controllers to keep delays down.

The Sesar project, which like NextGen aims to address the capacity gap through new technologies and automation, requires controllers for validation. However, Europe already has approximately 10 percent fewer controllers than it needs, and their average age is increasing rapidly. In the coming years the agency could be operating with 20 percent fewer controllers than needed.

Europe is also bracing for an influx of VLJs, with up to 100 additional aircraft coming into service each year. To ensure that this growth and the consequent increase in complexity of air traffic in Europe can be handled safely and efficiently, Eurocontrol has launched a new forum, the “European VLJs Integration Platform.” Following analysis of the impact of VLJ operations, the forum will propose solutions for integration. (See related story on page 63.)

“The regulatory process is important,” McMillan said. “It is one of our goals to ensure that the individual states implement an effective safety management system and it is supported by management that understands that what they are [dealing in] is safe transportation.”

McMillan said that the EU is funding Sesar to the tune of E700 million per year. He added that “it would be of concern to me” if the U.S. was not able to fund its NextGen program.