European Countries Join To Mitigate Weather Delays

 - September 13, 2018, 9:39 AM

European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc has criticized the bloc’s member states for lacking support to complete the European Single Sky project and called for a “more genuine” cooperation between national air navigation service providers (ANSPs), but now ANSPs from Austria, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland are proving the can work together and across borders after concluding a new set of procedures to help optimize air traffic management over the Alps in adverse weather conditions.

The partners devised the new procedures with the aim of reducing delays at Munich airport, stabilizing the network and air traffic flows, reducing the workload in the Karlsruhe Upper Area Control Center (UAC), and increasing safety under adverse weather conditions.

The number of thunderstorms in the Alps has grown over the last years, and the first six months of 2018 weather affected traffic to Munich airport on 17 days, compared with 16 days for the whole of 2017. As adverse weather often occurs unexpectedly, controllers routinely have routed inbound flights to Munich airport to the upper airspace controlled by the Karlsruhe UAC at short notice. The flights increased the complexity in already overloaded sectors.

Under the new procedures, controllers working in Padova, Vienna, or Zurich distribute the traffic to three additional fixed routings via airspace controlled by Karlsruhe, Zurich, or Vienna. In addition, the procedures include defined descent areas to ensure a smooth inbound flow to Munich airport, while a new automated data exchange increases predictability.

“This is an excellent example of how operational experts are working in common and across borders to develop tailored solutions for the benefit of the network,” noted Andreas Pötzsch, director of en route and approach at Germany’s ANSP DFS.

While severe weather operations remain one of the biggest challenges across the Alpine region, weather events have become more intense and less predictable across Europe and have led to an 80 percent increase in delay minutes attributable to meteorological conditions since 2013, according to Eurocontrol. Weather has caused a third of all ATM delays in the European network so far this year and 37.1 percent of delays in the first 20 days of August. Last year, it caused 25.5 percent of ATFM delay. 

Last month, Eurocontrol’s network manager held its first Cross Border Weather Coordination Meeting to improve collaboration, see where gaps exist, and incorporate lessons learned into procedures. It also has studied processes across the Atlantic to see how the U.S. handles delays caused by adverse weather. “The Americans are much better organized in dealing with the weather than we are in Europe,” said network manager director Joe Sultana.”They have much more experience because extreme weather phenomena are not uncommon in the United States.”

Europe has been beset by delays this year, prompting Eurocontrol director general Eamonn Brennan to frequently tweet about the seriousness of the situation. The network accumulated 14.1 million minutes of en-route delays by August 19, anincrease of 123 percent when compared with the same period last year, Eurocontrol data revealed. In July, 59 percent of flights were delayed on departure, 20 percent experienced a delay of more than 30 minutes and 8 percent more than 60 minutes.  Weather, ATC capacity/staffing, and airline delays all contributed.