Traffic, volatility levels test FABEC capacity

Unexpected high traffic growth and high traffic volatility means FABEC member air navigation service providers (ANSP) will most probably fail to reach the capacity target for 2017.
While FABEC  improved their operational performance in the first six months of 2017 in comparison to the same period in 2016, “nevertheless, adverse weather conditions, staffing issues and insufficient ATC capacity led to results below target values,” FABEC admitted.
Traffic in the first six months of 2017 increased by + 3.9 per cent to 2.86 million safely controlled flights (January to June 2016: 2.75 million).
Although this growth is significantly above the STATFOR baseline forecast published in 2015, there are sizeable differences between FABEC ANSPs ranging from Belgocontrol with + 7.0 per cent to skyguide with + 2.7 per cent traffic increase.
“Today, ANSPs have to cope with unpredicted changes in traffic flows in terms of quantity, routings and time, which makes capacity planning in the frame of a rigid regulatory system a serious challenge,” it said.
Despite the unexpected increase in air traffic demand, in the first half of 2017, 94.8 per cent of all flights in the FABEC area experienced no delays caused by air traffic control (ATFM en-route delays). Some 98.1 per cent arrived at their destination airports on time, i.e. within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.
The average delay due to en-route ATFM measures was roughly 50 seconds per flight (0.83 min./flight), significantly less than during the same period of 2016 (74 seconds or 1.23 min./flight). The primary causes for delays were ATC capacity, adverse weather, industrial action and staffing shortages.
A comparison between the delay situation in 2014 – the end of the first regulatory reference period set by the European Commission under Single European Sky performance scheme – and today shows that the core area has registered an above-average deterioration in punctuality.
“This can partially be explained by the unexpected traffic growth after almost ten years of stagnating traffic as the industry has pushed for cost reductions,” FABEC said. “In light of the unexpected high traffic demand, this strategy may be questioned as it shows that the related underinvestment is now resulting in capacity shortfalls due to controller availability and system implementations.”
Even so, in the first half 2017, airport punctuality developed positively: the number of take-offs and landings at the 83 FABEC airports rose to 1.26 million (+ 2.7 per cent). At the 83 monitored FABEC airports, punctuality remained excellent and slightly improved from 48.6 seconds/flight (0.81 min.) in the period from January to June 2016 to only 46.8 seconds/flight (0.78 min.) in the same period of 2017.
The airspace of the six FABEC States of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland is one of the busiest and most complex in the world. The majority of major European airports, major civil airways and military training areas are located in this area. FABEC airspace covers 1.7 million km² and handles about 5.5 million flights per year – 55 per cent of European air traffic. The seven civil air navigation service providers are ANA (Luxembourg), Belgocontrol (Belgium), DFS (Germany), DSNA (France), LVNL (Netherlands), MUAC (Eurocontrol), and skyguide (Switzerland).