Spend cash reserves to boost capacity: PRB

Europe’s air navigation service providers must dip into their cash reserves and invest more in vital ATM infrastructure if the capacity crunch is to be resolved, according to the group of high-level aviation specialists advising the EU Commission on the performance of the Single European Sky

The group known as the Performance Review Body (PRB) has now published its recommendation for Union-wide performance targets in air navigation services for 2020-2024 which aim to increase flight punctuality and efficiency to reduce environmental impact while reducing costs and ensuring high safety standards.

The PRB said it faced the difficult question whether the target setting for the coming years should be adjusted to the insufficient performance of a few key member states such as France and Germany or whether a few underperformers ‘must live up to the standards others are able to provide’.

“Underperformers must take necessary measures to perform at acceptable levels. These measures are available and will cost money, but there are sufficient means in the system to finance them,” it said.

Air traffic is forecast to increase at an average 2.3 per cent per year for the next seven years resulting in a traffic demand up by 25 per cent in 8-10 years’ time. Already today, around 50,000 passengers face delays every day of up to two hours in airports across Europe, leading to missed connections and unforeseen costs.

The Performance Review Body consists of nine high-level aviation specialists from European states. Chaired by Regula Dettling-Ott, the PRB assists the Commission in the performance and economic regulation of monopoly air navigation service providers in the European Union and Switzerland by providing independent advice and expertise to improve the performance of air navigation in Europe in the key areas of safety, capacity, environment and cost-efficiency.
The performance and charging schemes of the Single European Sky are the regulatory instruments through which the Commission drives performance of air navigation services in cooperation with member states, national supervisory authorities and operational stakeholders.

The current European air traffic system needs to adapt – a challenge EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc has recently also addressed in a joint statement with the European Parliament.

In 2018, delays attributable to air navigation services dramatically increased: the overall Union-level delay more than doubled compared to the same period in 2017. In some member states in the core European area, the delay is currently six times higher than the binding target.

The PRB calls on member states and air navigation service providers to implement the necessary measures to address the issue now, noting that air navigation service providers are generating sufficient financial surplus to cover necessary investments. The PRB said it had considered these aspects in its recommendations, expecting that air navigation service providers can reduce delays by providing more capacity where needed and increase efficiency in the coming years .

The PRB recommends the following targets:

  • Safety: Air traffic management in Europe is very safe. The PRB recommends small additional improvements in the safety culture and risk management.
  • Environment: Environmental performance can be improved. The actual distance flown by aircraft should be shortened by an additional 0.2% as compared to the target for 2019. This would improve flight efficiency and reduce fuel burn. It is expected that by achieving those targets, up to 200,000 tons of CO2emissions per year could be saved.
  • Capacity: Despite the current problems with delay, the targets for capacity must remain ambitious. In 2017, the average delay per flight was 0.94 minutes. The target is to move towards 0.8 minutes in the next years and as of 2023 the average Air Traffic Flow Management delay per flight shall not exceed 0.5 minute. Reaching the recommended target range would reduce delays for passengers and support the increasing demand for traffic. A total of €2.5bn over 2020-2024 of costs due to delays could be saved.
  • Cost-efficiency: By the end of 2024 the average determined unit cost for air navigation services should be substantially lower than today. The PRB recommends a reduction of 23% as compared to the Union-wide target for 2019. Further efficiency gains are possible due to new technologies and procedures and due to the fact that air navigation service providers will have an increased income due to higher traffic. This would reduce the cost to airspace users, enabling airlines to offer lower fares to passengers.

The Commission will use the advice provided by the advisory body to adopt a decision on Union-wide targets for the period 2020-2024 of the performance and charging scheme in early 2019. Member States will then adopt performance plans for that period which set binding local targets consistent with Union-wide targets.

Going forward the PRB, recommends a two-stage process where ANSPs must first recover from the current capacity shortfall. Here, it said it welcomed regulatory revisions currently underway which aimed at encouraging and incentivising air navigation services from any location and implement the technology required to make this happen. “It is only then that the recurrent cycle of traffic growth and delay will be resolved and that the system will be able to adapt flexibly to meet fluctuating demand,” it said.

A second stage would see the preparation for the regulatory mechanism underpinning the fourth reference period which would allow the industry to transform to demand driven services using available technology.

“a few (large) member states in the centre of Europe (in particular, France and Germany) are failing to provide sufficient capacity, despite growing traffic. As these ANSPs are in the core area of Europe where demand continues to increase, their insufficient performance has the greatest impact on network performance” PRB 

The PRB also believes that a three-year reference period would allow for a better implementation of both the short-term and the long-term goals of the European air traffic management system.

Henrik Hololei, director-general for mobility and transport at the European Commission said: The PRB’s recommendation comes at a time when we observe new record levels of air traffic paired with lack of capacity causing substantial delays for passengers. The Commission is committed to contribute to the resolution of the capacity limitations by completing the Single European Sky – also through EU investment into innovative technological solutions such as SESAR.”

What The PRB Told The European Commission
Traffic and delay are now at record levels. Millions of passengers did not reach their destination on time. Nevertheless, in 2017 the Single European Sky (SES) area handled less than 1 per cent more flights than in 2008.
The current situation produced an average delay of over two minutes per flight (up to August 2018), four times the target for [the second regulatory reference period] RP2. The latest version of the Network Operations Plan of the Network Manager projects an even poorer delay performance than the previous edition, emphasising the gravity of the situation. However, this is not a failure of European air traffic management as a whole. Many states in Europe are performing well and are reaching their delay targets despite challenging traffic growth, demonstrating that there is sufficient capacity throughout the majority of the European ATM network.
For example, Slovakia and Bulgaria have handled traffic growth above the STATFOR baseline forecast whilst achieving their delay targets.
A few (large) member states in the centre of Europe (in particular, France and Germany) are failing to provide sufficient capacity, despite growing traffic. As these ANSPs are in the core area of Europe where demand continues to increase, their insufficient performance has the greatest impact on network performance. Seven area control centres – six in the centre of Europe – are forecast to generate excessive delays and must increase capacity provision urgently to meet the needs of the airspace users.
For those ANSPs that fail to provide sufficient capacity, analysis shows much of the delay is caused by capacity and staffing causes. Such reasons are considered to be largely within the control of the ANSPs and the poor performance is at least partly the consequence of management decisions taken by ANSPs in the past five years.
A number of ANSPs have not provided sufficient capacity, have delayed investments and did not take corrective measures soon enough to adapt their priorities. At the same time these ANSPs have recovered additional revenue through the traffic risk sharing mechanism and generated surpluses significantly above those planned.
The PRB will ask the respective National Supervisory Authorities to immediately initiate corrective measures based on the PRB’s recommendations within the Monitoring Report for 2017.