Experts from six European Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) are seeking new solutions in a bid to tackle volatility in ATM.
BALTIC FAB, BLUE MED FAB, DANUBE FAB, FABCE, FABEC and the SW FAB together with Eurocontrol’s Performance Review Unit (PRU) met at the recent World ATM Congress in Madrid to discuss how best to meet the challenge of volatility within ATM.
The interFAB panel “Volatility in ATM: cases, challenges, solutions” had as its basis a system view provided by the PRU and was supported by case studies from all the FABs. Participants agreed that volatility has evolved from a single phenomenon to one impacting the aviation system overall, something which needs to be taken seriously and will require further analysis.
The case studies demonstrated the complexity and the multidimensionality of the issue of volatility in air traffic management (ATM). The underlying causes are varied: ranging from geopolitical conflicts, impact of climate change, new and diverging business models of airspace users up to tactical aspects, such as individual flight planning or unexpected and short-term changes to sector loads.
The discussion in Madrid focussed on two main points. Firstly, the panel raised the question of why volatility had become such a pressing issue since changes in traffic flows have been experienced in the past. Secondly, the panel was looking for solutions or ways to handle volatility in future planning and operations – without using volatility as an excuse for underperformance.
The panel agreed that the main driver of volatility is the complex interaction of new external factors, such as uncertain geopolitics, the unpredictable impact of climate change and new business models established by airspace users. Due to a rigid economic regulatory system, cost pressures have led to a reduction in the capacity surplus provided by air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and subsequently to less flexibility of the air navigation service.
Potential solutions were identified:
- enhancing collaborative decision-making among all partners in the aviation value chain;
- developing tools to solve crises at short notice as they occur (as experienced by several FABs after the MH17 case);
- agreeing on indicators of how to measure volatility; and
- adding more flexibility to the current regulatory system. This could, for example, be achieved by providing operational or financial buffers.
In addition, all partners agreed that some restrictions in quality of service provided are inherent to the system and cannot be influenced.
Dr Bernd Tiemeyer from Eurocontrol said that while the unit costs of ATM/CNS provision are decreasing, ATFM delay-related cost are increasing with growing traffic, resulting in increasing total unit cost. “Capacity provision is falling behind demand in some areas. It appears that the flexibility to react to changes in demand is reducing. The question is: how can we make the system more flexible again?”
Geoffroy Ville from Farnce’s DSNA and FABEC member said the to ensure quality of service while working at the capacity limit in several sectors, ANSPs need to find ways to balance the airspace users’ normal demand for flexibility with the operational need for predictability of traffic of air navigation services. “Collaborative decision making is a possible answer,” he said.
Janusz Janiszewski from Poland’s PANSA reported that the BALTIC FAB is still heavily impacted by the MH17 disaster. “Suddenly, traffic dropped by up to 150 overflights a day, followed by unpredicted new flows in the eastern part of Poland. On top of this, the number of military exercises is increasing strongly.”
Veselin Stoyanov from Bulgaria’s BULATSA, a DANUBE FAB member reported that in 2014, Danube FAB had to cope without warning with a traffic increase of more than 20 per cent due to the closure of Ukraine airspace. “To solve the situation a wide range of tactical, short- and midterm measures had to be implemented – ranging from changes in rosters, airspace design up to new technical equipment.”
Patricia Ruiz Martino from the SW FAB member ANSP ENAIRE said the second regulatory reference period within the Single European Sky performance scheme was a very challenging phase for the SW FAB, with traffic growth well above all expectations as a result of political instability in some traditional tourist destinations, which forced traffic to move into the SW Axis area.
Three geopolitical crises impacted Blue Med airspace, respoted Joe Degiorgio, from BLUE MED FAB member ANSP MATS. he said the closure of Libyan airspace has led to a ‘massive’ loss. “The sanctions imposed by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia / Bahrain / UAE / Oman on Qatari-registered aircraft led to a huge shift of flights away from the Malta FIR. And traffic circumnavigating the Ukraine has shifted to the west.”
Alexander Hanslik, from FABCE member ANSP Austrocontrol said his provider had resigned itself to living with volatility. “While there are limits to the ATM system’s flexibility, it has proved to be fairly flexible, and FABCE ANSPs have, by and large, delivered capacity way beyond what was forecasted. By contrast, the regulatory system is rather rigid. We should aim for a more dynamic management of the regulatory targets to better reflect the volatile nature of our business.”
A scientific workshop organised by Baltic FAB, FABEC and the German Aviation Research Society in Warsaw will take place in mid May to further discuss how to meet the challenge of volatility in ATM.