Airlines and ANSPs Bicker Over European ATM Targets

 - April 9, 2019, 1:55 PM

Europe’s air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and airlines again are at odds, this time over the EU-wide performance targets for the bloc’s air traffic management for the five-year period starting January 1, 2020. Member states last week approved the targets for what in EU jargon is known as the third reference period (RP3) of the Single European Sky (SES) performance scheme, covering the areas of safety, flight efficiency, en-route delays, and costs. The proposal calls for a year-on-year decrease of the average EU-wide determined unit cost for en-route air navigation services by 1.9 percent. The bloc set a target for the average en-route air traffic flow management (ATFM) delay per flight attributable to air navigation services at a maximum of 0.9 minutes per flight in 2020 and 2021, 0.7 minutes per flight in 2022, and 0.5 minutes per flight in 2023, and 0.5 minutes per flight in 2024.

In its draft proposal, the European Commission noted the RP3 objectives followed an eight-month-long consultation with all stakeholders, and the set targets reflect the ambition for performance of the EU ATM network as a whole.

Airlines, however, have expressed disappointment. The targets mark the “weakest levels of ambition in the history” of the SES performance scheme and exacerbate the potential for further delays when RP3 begins next year, according to a joint statement issued by Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE), the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In 2018 delays amounted to more than 19 million minutes, up 105 percent on 2017, and the average en-route delay per flight totaled 1.73 minutes, more than three times the target established for the current RP2. 

The agreed proposal for the coming five years fails to address that ANSPs have not delivered the much-needed capacity—for which airspace users paid—to accommodate the current number of flights, the airline bodies asserted.

“These targets will reward poorly performing ANSPs whilst frustrating those who are already delivering,” said A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert. “Combined with insufficient staffing levels and current underspending by ANSPs on future investments to improve their performance, the new targets are extremely disappointing and simply bad news for passengers.” Key stakeholders involved in the target-setting process need to challenge ANSPs to deliver consistent improvements or face financial penalties, he stressed.

The EC has not followed its own academic recommendations to address the cost inefficiency in the European ATM system, noted ERA director general Montserrat Barriga. A recent study on benchmarking of ANSPs commissioned by EC mobility and transport department DG Move estimated EU-wide cost inefficiencies in the range of 25 percent to 30 percent. The latest performance targets will do little to address those inefficiencies, she said.

Jeff Poole, director general of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), rebuffed the airlines’ criticisms and highlighted that the trade body’s members “have worked hard to improve European ATM performance in recent years, achieving a 16 percent unit cost reduction between 2011 and 2017 while maintaining world-leading safety standards.” He insisted CANSO “strongly supports” the need for performance-based targets, though he also warned airlines that the demand to reduce unit costs while continuing to tackle the pressing capacity constraints poses a “significant” challenge. "Record traffic levels in Europe also call for increased capacity, investments, and resourcing,” he said. “We therefore need to work with the European Commission, states, regulators, and industry stakeholders to ensure that we strike the appropriate balance between service delivery and cost, while safely and effectively meeting growing demand.”