Germany implements wide-ranging national strategy to tackle aviation capacity crisis

Germany’s nation transport authorities have agreed on a suite of measures to overcome the significant capacity issues that led to gridlock at some of the country’s airports this summer.

An October 5 high-level meeting saw the launch of a wide-ranging aviation policy that will be implemented as part of an agreement between the federal government, the regional Länder authorities, airlines, airports, air navigation service providers and associations over the current legislative period.

“It is a central interest of all to ensure the reliability of air traffic. The extent of flight cancellations and delays that have occurred this year must be reduced in the future,” the BVMI transport ministry stated, adding, “it was agreed that this situation is a common problem that can only be solved together, both at national and at European level”.

The new measures are designed to increase the performance, reliability, safety and security of German air traffic by reducing system bottlenecks.

Participants of the high-level meeting agreed that the federal government will work at European level to shorten the regulatory period and revise current rules to enable future needs-based and cost-efficient personnel planning, acknowledging that there are simply not enough air traffic controllers currently qualified to work in some individual sectors.

The federal government will also work to improve capacity through more effective cross-border cooperation and more flexible cross-sectoral use of air traffic controllers, and – based on the results of EU research projects (SESAR) – through greater automation of air navigation services.

Another measure will see pressure on the upper airspace temporarily relieved by the use of lower altitudes during this capacity-building period. Increasing punctuality at the upper airspace control centres in Karlsruhe and Maastricht will also be a focus here.

“Air traffic controllers should be relieved as far as possible of special tasks,” the BMVI stated, adding that staff will also be deployed more flexibly and rosters become less rigid. Additional capacity will also be created through voluntary overtime arrangements.

Unforeseeable overload situations in individual sectors will be prevented by encouraging airlines to operate on the basis of their filed flight plan route and individual clearances for domestic flights will be kept to a minimum.

In order to reduce the complexity of controller workload and therefore increase airspace capacity, traffic will be ‘bundled’ more intensively in the future into standardised traffic flows.

DFS, Germany’s air navigation service provider, will also be directed to use its maximum training capacity to provide more air traffic controllers for the most congested sectors in the medium and long term.

An enlargement of sectors is envisaged which will enhance flexibility through new technology and procedures. “This will make it easier and faster for pilots to be deployed where needed. In addition, an authorisation system of the pilots is sought, which is based on air traffic control technology and no longer on the controlled airspace.”

DFS tells Air Traffic Management that it is working intensively on measures to make the required capacity available as quickly as possible such as the maximum utilisation of its training capacity. Currently, DFS accepts about 120 new air traffic controllers for training each year. In addition, its recruits fully trained air traffic controllers from all over the world.

In May, it said DFS and its European partners had already begun to smooth traffic flows and relieve the congested upper airspace by shifting flights to lower, less frequented flight levels. “The Karlsruhe control centre, which controls the upper airspace in Germany, cooperates closely with control centres in Swanwick (UK), Maastricht and Reims (France) as well as with eleven other control centres in Europe,” it noted.

DFS admits that it had a role in this summer’s problems with average delays per flight in July of 21 minutes, of which 3.7 minutes could be attributed to to air navigation services – as compared with 1.1 minutes out of a total of 12.4 minutes the previous year.

“However, mutual accusations are of no use; instead, it is important to work together on solutions. Air traffic thrives on the smooth cooperation of all system partners – airlines, airport operators, security service providers and air navigation service providers. This is especially true in such a highly frequented and complex airspace as it is in the heart of Europe, in Germany.

“The strong growth in air traffic has a particular impact on the available capacity in the sky and thus on air navigation services. This is a particular challenge in airspace that is already operating at its capacity limits,” DFS said. “The current situation is to a large extent also due to the fact that the Europe-wide regulation of air navigation services introduced by the EU in 2012 has led to considerable undesirable developments. The resulting cost efficiency has been at the expense of the available capacity.”

“Generally speaking, we need competent regulation in Europe that is not based on long-term, volatile traffic forecasts. Regulation needs a clear change that takes national circumstances into account and is based on European principles.”