Outsourcing Angst

Andrew Charlton-WebFrank Brenner, formerly of DFS, the German ANSP, quietly lobbied for the role of Director General of Eurocontrol by producing a blueprint for reforming ATM in Europe, writes Andrew Charlton of Aviation Advocacy.

Or more accurately, by producing a blueprint for clearing the logjam that is presently halting the reform of ATM in Europe. Now, as DG of Eurocontrol, he is taking that plan to the people.

His plan offers the good offices of Eurocontrol to serve as a means to oversee the centralisation of various services that all ANSPs need, so that each of them was done once, centrally, rather than in each European ANSP.

Once the services were up and running in a centralised way, their provision would be tendered out to consortia of potential providers.

This introduces competition into the core of the provision of ATM services. The common argument to date has been that it is impossible to have competition in anything other than a limited range of ancillary services such as training. This proposal introduces competition for parts of the market, not competition in the market, but it is a good start.


The second issue that this proposal addresses is the one of social dialogue. ‘Social dialogue’ is Europe-speak for unions. There is a fascinating side discussion to be had into how the unions allowed themselves to become seen as the cause of all known delays to the implementation of the SES, but that is for another day.

If the various tasks are consolidated and then tendered to consortia around Europe, it is hoped that the winning suppliers, in building up a centre of excellence in that particular service, will create jobs that can replace those lost elsewhere as the services are moved to the central provider.

This assumes that somehow, magically, through common sense and market forces no doubt, each of the various services are awarded to different suppliers around Europe, rather than to the one superior supplier, thus spreading the love and the jobs, as well as the pain.

The plan also assumes that the FABs do not exist. The economics of one provider, even with the cost base of Eurocontrol say, being cheaper than all of the ANSPs is understandable. Depending on your definition of Europe, this means that some services will be done once, rather than by 27, 30 or 39 ANSPs. In all cases, one is the smaller number. There should be cost savings immediately realisable to airlines from that alone.

But the economics are less obvious if there are only nine current providers. That should be the outcome of the rationalisation and consolidation the FABs bring. Factor in that for many of these services, even if done by one provider, it will need in the order of five sites to provide coverage and back-up. Then the economics are not so self-evident. Either that or perhaps the admission that the FAB white flag is being secured to the flag pole cannot be far away.


The Eurocontrol proposal is now being socialised to ANSPs and to airspace users through consultations and presentations. There is also a website. A very aggressive timetable for expressions of interest and tenders, including demonstration models, has also been announced. It goes without saying that the airlines are very keen on this idea.

It is paradigm shifting and shows the sort of consolidation that the industry needs. The Commission too is very supportive. In these times of austerity, funds have been found for a study to look more deeply into the proposal.

The ANSPs are more sceptical. They have a number of issues with the proposal. First, the ability of Eurocontrol to drive through this sort of proposal must be in question. Remember data-link? In compliance with a European mandate, airlines spent millions equipping aircraft to Eurocontrol standards, only to find that the States, all members of Eurocontrol, had not complied with their side of the bargain. In some cases they agreed to link data only several years further down the road.

Coupled with this is the concern States have about the data and who owns it. This is a big issue, not just in the immediate case, but more generally, as finally the penny drops that this is not about products it is about data-driven services.


Some States continue to prohibit the use of data not produced within its borders. Switzerland for example, will not allow its ANSP to participate in EAD, a Eurocontrol-run aeronautical information database, set up by Frank Brenner in his DFS days, and surely a precedent for this proposal. What chance does Eurocontrol have to bring the States into this grand coalition of sharing?

Without specific, strong, language obliging States to act, this is going to be difficult. All the Commission needs to do is convince the Single Sky Committee and then the Council that that more power should be given to Europe. Nothing too hard then.

The UK has already indicated that it is not able to agree to anything that might be seen by the feral UK press as conceding any point to Europe. You might think that having agreed to go forward with a single European sky that particular horse had bolted. But never one to be accused of leaving stable doors open irrespective of the state of mind, or location, of the horse, the current UK government is trying hard to reconcile previous agreements to proceed with a refusal to proceed.

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