FABEC sets traffic record although volatility leads to significant capacity issues

FABEC celebrated an all time high in terms of managed air traffic in 2017 leaving some sectors struggling to cope with demand that was not forecast.

The seven FABEC air navigation service providers ANA (Luxembourg), Belgocontrol (Belgium), DFS (Germany), DSNA (France), LVNL (Netherlands), MUAC (Eurocontrol), and skyguide (Switzerland) highlighted the growing levels of traffic volatility which led to unexpected shifts of traffic flows and impacted performance in their annual performance report.

The seven member organisations said this issue can only be solved by a coordinated effort by the entire aviation value chain.

In 2017, traffic continued to increase to an all-time high of 5.99 million flights (+ 3.4 per cent compared to 2016). This was the fourth consecutive year of an overarching positive trend in the aviation market. Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt are now Europe’s busiest airports, in terms of aircraft movements.

Despite this overall trend however there were significant variations between the traffic levels at control centres and individual sectors within the airspace block.

“Traffic demand has become volatile and the bandwidth of monthly growth for FABEC ANSPs varied between -0.9 and +7.7 per cent. Some sectors – especially in the core area – have become saturated and are no longer able to cope with additional unpredicted demand,” said FABEC.

Despite this, the FABEC safety record for 2017 was excellent as proven by data on separation minima infringements and runway incursions. The number of separation minima infringements with ATM contribution continued to decline (from 970 in 2016 to 888 in 2017). Runway incursions with ATM contribution slightly increased however from 116 (2016) to 129 (2017).

“We know we cannot take safety for granted. To stay safe in the air and on the ground a continuous cycle of excellence in safety performance is required,” they stated.

After safety, punctuality is the most important indicator of how well the ATM sector is performing. The most reliable information on delay metrics is provided by the Central Office of Delay Analysis (CODA) which showed that 92.9 per cent of all flights conducted in 2017 were punctual, having experienced no ATFM en-route delays (94.1 per cent in 2016) with 97.4 per cent arriving at their destination airports within 15 minutes of their scheduled time.

Consequently, the overall delay minutes caused by flow management measures increased by 11.5 per cent (2017: 69 seconds per flight; 2016: 64 seconds per flight). FABEC did however miss the target of 25 seconds per flight.

It said the principal causes of ATC delays were due to shortages in capacity (42.3 per cent) and staffing (15.7 per cent) – both mainly caused by a mismatch between unpredicted traffic and long-term staff and capacity planning. Furthermore, it said, the impact of climate change is increasing and becoming more visible for passengers in terms of thunderstorms or airport closures as a result of snow on the runways. In 2017, 22.9 per cent of all delays were caused by adverse weather.

In terms of environmental impact, horizontal flight efficiency came close to the optimum.
In 2017, the average en-route distance per flight in FABEC airspace was 513 km, 9 km longer (1.7 per cent) than the average direct route. Analysis of radar data shows that FABEC air navigation service providers have consistently provided almost optimal horizontal flight profiles to airspace users.

In 2017, horizontal flight profiles were close to the optimum as actual trajectories converged at 96.77 per cent (2016: 96.45 per cent) of the great circle distance.

“This is an excellent value,” it said, “which allows for only marginal improvements in the future.”

Controllers have been providing the shortest routings on average to airspace users since the start of the second reference period in 2014.

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