Record air traffic raises concerns
The future of air traffic management in Europe continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing the aviation community. Some of the complex issues concerned have been discussed for years and others are now coming to a head in the wake of the Single European Sky (SES) initiative and its associated SESAR ATM research program.
Last year saw record traffic with more than 9.2 million flights and more than 700 million passengers, Eurocontrol director general Victor Aguado told attendees at the ATM agency’s annual general and business aviation day on March 31. Between 2004 and 2005, the number of flights grew by 4.5 percent, he said.
“Since 1999, traffic has grown by 15 percent. At the same time, the rate of accidents went down by 35 percent, delays attributed to air traffic management decreased by 75 percent and unit costs fell by 13 percent,” emphasized Aguado.
Nevertheless, Eurocontrol remains concerned about airport delays in Europe, a situation that has remained unchanged for the last few years. It is also confronting the fast-multiplying. low-cost carrier traffic, which is growing above the industry average rate.
At the same time, the prospective impact of new-generation very light jets (VLJs) on the European ATM scene remains unknown. Lex Hendriks, head of Eurocontrol’s airspace management and navigation unit and a pilot himself, believes it could be a big factor in the future. But Phil Boyer, chairman of the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associations, predicted that VLJs will not vastly increase overall traffic volume because they will largely be replacing older aircraft.
During the meeting, Eurocontrol released some statistics on the importance of business and general aviation in Europe. Last year these two categories of operations represented just 2.89 percent of all airspace users and 1.57 percent of all flights in Europe. These 140,000 flights accounted for 0.62 percent of all route charges, that is, *35 million out of a total of *5.7 billion invoiced.
“Is it only by coincidence that the European business aviation fleet has grown by 25 percent since 2001 when EBACE started?” asked Brian Humphries, chief executive of the European Business Aviation Association. The continent’s business aviation fleet now includes some 2,500 aircraft, of which approximately 1,600 are jets.
Under the impetus of the European Commission’s SES project, Eurocontrol is looking into new regulations to avoid congestion crises like those suffered in 1988 and 1989. “With the number of flights anticipated to grow by 35 percent over the next 10 years, there is a need to ensure that the capacity of the airspace network can grow at a similar pace,” Aguado said. “There is a very strong political impetus and commitment to maintain this kind of record as the number of flights continue to increase.”
Among various equipment programs currently under way at Eurocontrol there is one that sounds only too familiar to the regular observer of European ATM: PRnav (precision area navigation).
Michel Roelandt of Eurocontrol’s user support group, reported that Eurocontrol’s Rnav Integrated Initiative aims to reduce the number of diverse and potentially confusing TMA (traffic management advisor) procedures. At present, there are many different types of procedures with differing requirements (for example, BRnav, BRnav+, GPS, FMS, sequence of waypoints and PRnav). The variations in Rnav approval requirements, procedure design and procedure publication/charting, and navigation data integrity are not without safety implications.
The objective is therefore to have PRnav used for all Rnav procedures. In other words, PRnav allows terminal airspace operations that are consistent in the 42 member states of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), based on a common set of design and operation principles, ensuring consistent levels of flight safety. More than 1,500 aircraft are now PRnav-approved and many business aircraft already are PRnav-capable, but further approvals are needed.
There will be no PRnav mandate ECAC-wide, so the airports will have to decide whether they will implement it. States have also committed to providing at least one conventional approach procedure until 2010.
As the Galileo satellite network becomes operational for use by civil aviation around 2012, there will be financial incentive for the frequent ATM-system user to equip with GNSS, while minimizing the penalty to the occasional user.
This financial balance could be achieved through the new charging plans developed by Eurocontrol’s central route charge office (CRCO) on behalf of the EC, explained Georg Schneider, an expert from the CRCO’s systems and business development unit.
The CRCO currently collects route charges for 32 Eurocontrol member states and terminal charges for five member states (on a bilateral basis). This regional route charge system is expected to be expanded to the whole ECAC area in the future. In the meantime, Serbia/Montenegro is expected to join the CRCO this year, and Poland and Ukraine to follow next year.
Schneider stressed that, thanks to the use of an effective formula (distance flown x weight x unit rate x states overflown), Eurocontrol’s multilateral route charging system is “simple, efficient, equitable, nondiscriminatory, cost-related and cost-effective in line with ICAO’s recommendations and principles.”
The SES calls for a new, common charging plan, which will provide greater transparency of cost. In particular, the cost for services to exempt flights will no longer be charged to other users, instead states will have to pay for them. The payment enforcement mechanisms will also be strengthened.
Initially, the route charging system will not be very much different but could include some changes such as the introduction of economic principles into the charging formula. Environmental charges are also being considered although the EC is now favoring emission trading arrangements.
Moreover, it is also debating the harmonization of the system of terminal charges. It is likely to apply incentive charging mechanisms to influence the behavior of airspace users and air navigation services in terms of equipage.
User organizations, including EBAA and IAOPA, are represented in SES discussions and lobby through Eurocontrol’s industry consultation board. SES will make its final decisions taking into consideration impact analyses.
EBAA’s Humphries refuted the common assumption that a business aircraft is no less trouble to an air traffic controller than an airliner. This is not true, he argued, since an airliner takes more room on a runway and in the airspace (due partly to wake turbulence, for instance), and also burns more fuel than a business jet. “A blip is not a blip,” he insisted, echoing the rallying cry of the U.S. National Business Aviation Association against the proposed introduction of user charges.
Humphries stressed the need for business aviation to maintain fair and equitable access to both airspace and airports, which involves retaining the weight factor in the route charging formula and the “first-come, first-served” principle for en-route slots. “We need to maintain our guard in the light of on-going developments in the U.S.,” he told those at the meeting.
As part of its policy of sustainable development for aviation established in 1999, the EC is looking at economic ways to improve the environmental efficiency of air transport that outweigh the environmental impact of its growth. Among these are emissions trading schemes (ETS) which are recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization as potentially environmentally effective and cost efficient.
EBAA participates in the EC’s aircraft emissions working group. As a result of its recommendations, Eurocontrol accepted that the Pagoda emissions model required an update to reflect emissions from business jets. The association also gained sympathy for its position that small emitters should be excluded from European ETS under the “polluter pays” principle. It pleaded that the costs of managing the ETS and the impact on the emitter must not exceed recoveries, and must be affordable to SMEs. Despite the fact that thresholds, such as weight, still have to be determined, EBAA’s environmental expert Guy Visele hopes to achieve a good estimate of bizav emissions levels.