Eco-performance of Europe’s Air Traffic Mgmt Lagging

 - October 7, 2022, 10:43 AM
Germany's ANSPs rank among the worst environmental performers in Europe. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY) by Ashwin KC)

Europe's air navigation service providers (ANSPs) performed well in terms of air traffic management safety last year, but they did not meet their environmental targets even in a period of low traffic volumes compared with 2019 levels and a revised target framework. Their environmental performance gives cause for “concern,” a report from the independent Performance Review Body (PRB) of the Single European Sky (SES) noted.

A new methodology that ranks the environmental performance of the SES member states—the European Union (EU) plus Norway and Switzerland—and their ANSPs in a traffic light system, reveals that only nine member states rank in the “green” zone and 10 in the “red” zone, while a further nine fall in the middle or “amber” zone, highlighting a “need to improve environmental performance,” remarked PRB chair Regula Dettling-Ott.

The PRB monitors and assesses how ANSPs perform in relation to agreed EU-wide and national binding targets in key areas such as safety, the environment, capacity, and cost efficiency. The performance targets form part of the SES regulation set over a so-called reference period (RFP) of five years. However, regulators put in place an emergency measures rule to address the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and revised the targets for the environment, capacity, and cost-efficiency for 2020 and 2021.

Even with the lower targets and low traffic levels (ANSPs handled 5.5 million flights compared with 10.8 million flights in 2019), the companies missed the EU-wide environment targets for horizontal flight efficiency and 16 SES member states failed to achieve their local targets, according to data of the Performance Review Body Monitoring Report 2021. The PRB released the full report and a 21-page paper dedicated to the environmental traffic light ranking earlier this week.

ANSPs’ horizontal fight efficiency deteriorated as traffic started to increase. It was felt the effect of rerouting of flights around the airspace of Belarus, starting in May 2021, and eastern Ukraine. Still, “most member states should have been able to meet the targets because of lower traffic, practically no capacity hotspots, and fewer network disruptions (strikes),” the report concludes. The PRB estimates that airlines flew 9 million kilometers of additional distance in 2021 as a result of missing the EU-wide target. That equates to about 27 million kilograms of excess fuel burned and 85 million kilograms of CO2, or the equivalent of approximately 770 return flights between Paris and New York.

Airlines for years have expressed frustration over the slow implementation of a streamlined SES, pointing out that inefficiencies in the European ATC system have increased costs for them and for the environment. Research indicates a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10 to 12 percent if Europe benefitted from a more efficient ANSP set-up and service delivery. 

The PRB report highlights that airline fleet modernization and the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produce a reduction in CO2 output across the aviation “value chain.”

“Their contribution is assessed regularly, identifying best performers and potential for improvement. The same holds true for airports,” it noted. However, it added, “the understanding of environmental performance of air traffic management has been less prominent.”

The PRB’s traffic light classification—which measures the gate-to-gate environmental performance of air traffic management over a seven-year period—shows that France and Germany, two countries with some of the largest and busiest airspace withing the SES, rank in the “red” zone. Also, performance in, Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Poland, and Switzerland rated as “red light.”  Conversely, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Norway, and Portugal have steadily improved their environmental performance and now fall into the green category.

Switzerland and France rank in the “red” band due in part to their slow implementation of Free Route Airspace, according to PRB data.