Greater Good?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… Will the challenges that beset the European ATM industry ever be resolved, asks Aimée Turner?

Airspace remains fragmented, service provision remains locked in an institutional state of sclerosis while the prospect for system-wide competition has been reduced to a mere bagatelle.

The fault lines have at least been identified: a lack of stakeholder engagement in defining the architecture and a lack of the right incentives to improve performance.

The industry has been promised that this year there will be renewed focus on actions that will yield the most potent benefits as the industry heads towards the third reference period starting in 2020.

So how will the performance and charging schemes be overhauled to deliver more effective tools to a renewed Performance Review Body (PRB)?

We’re told the scope of ATM network functions will be reinforced and extended before the 2019 appointment of the Network Manager. There is also talk of significantly upping the level of ambition by developing a mechanism to shift problematic traffic pinch points and accompanying that effort with a compensatory mechanism for providers who need to right-size their cost base as a consequence.

The issue of moving traffic flows is critical and has clearly been the biggest issue stopping a strategically critical functional airspace block such as FABEC from doing anything useful since it was established.


But who should be responsible for presiding over this profound re-drafting of today’s traffic flow map? If it is to form a feature of the Network Manager’s duties from 2020, then that will most probably sound a death knell for competition. It would be far more preferable to assign this responsibility to the new PRB.

That is not to say there is not a role for the Network Manager. While the cost of capacity equalises through a period of change following traffic calming measures, it could be tasked with approving compensation payments.

Compensation mechanisms are a form of price-setting it is true although eminently reasonable during a period of transition. If the Network Manager was to assume this role, however, it would undoubtedly lead it into conflict. Much better to make it a responsibility within any future Single European Sky Performance Scheme.

Air Traffic Management magazine proudly presents its first Innovation Insight, an examination of the key technology issues facing the European air traffic management industry.
Read the Innovation Insight by downloading Issue 1, 2017.

A proactive PRB needs to want to work with the member states to understand the blocking points and find solutions that can be easily implemented at both national and FAB level. Developing an effective compensation mechanism to more swiftly reach the end game – free route airspace across the whole of Europe – should be important feature of that effort.

One size does not fit all. European technology deployments vary enormously from one country to another. So too are the regulatory frameworks in which ANSPs operate.

Consensus over what sovereign responsibilities demand allied to a more benign performance scheme may lead to member states actively wanting to use the EC regulatory framework for the good of their own citizens. Success will come from not losing sight of what makes sense at a local level effort first in the pursuit of the wider ambitions for Europe.

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