Compare & Contrast

US productivity remains considerably higher than in the Single European Sky region with each air traffic controller stateside handling at least 56 per cent more volume of traffic than their European counterparts over the last five years.

According to a new report – US-Europe comparison of ATM related operational performance  – even though the United States and European Union (EU) are broadly comparable in terms of number of flights and geographic area, the level of European fragmentation most likely comes in to play with its smaller en-route facilities which require more handovers and interaction.

Since 2014, the FAA’s increased productivity is attributed to a 4 per cent increase in flight hours and 7 per cent decrease in controller hours. The report notes that this decrease in hours was driven by a decrease in the controller workforce rather than a decrease in average hours – or hours-per-controller.

Since 2008, despite continuous productivity gains of 1.9 per cent each year on average due to an increase in traffic and improved rostering within the European Union, the gap in average time spent by an air traffic controller directly engaged in ATC activity (i.e. hours on duty) between Europe and the US has continued to widen.

In 2016, the average annual hours on duty in the US (1,814 hours) were 40 per cent higher than in European inthe five years between 2015 – 2019 (1,300 hours).

As shown above, US controllers were handling 1.08 flight-hours per hour in 2016, while EU controllers were handling 0.69 flight-hours per hour on duty.

Meanwhile, total controller employment costs in the US decreased by 7 per cent compared to 2006
whereas in the EU total costs increased by 7 per cent in the same period.

While employment costs in the US decreased slightly over time, there was a notable increase in Europe between 2006 and 2009 likely due to:

  • large increases in employment costs in Spain;
  • upward pressure on salaries experienced by several Central and Eastern European countries following their accession to the EU; and,
  • additional pension costs which were dealt with in a variety of ways, including increased contributions and one-off exceptional payments.

The average employment costs in Europe decreased significantly in 2010, mainly as a result of new legislation in Spain which had a significant impact on controller contractual working hours and overtime hours leading to a substantial reduction in employment costs.

Theses figures feature in one of two reports just released which have have been prepared under an agreement between the United States and the European Union by the US Federal Aviation Administration and Eurocontrol on behalf of the European Commission.

Eamonn Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol, said: “The United States handles over 50 per cent more flight hours than Europe while Europe has over 50 per cent more staff than the United States. These reports not only highlight the big issues, such the impact of fragmentation, they also provide a remarkably detailed insight into a vast range of areas, such as taxi-out times, horizontal route efficiency and continuous descent operations. With the dramatic increase in en-route delays in 2018, capacity has to be our primary focus this summer. But we must not lose sight of how Europe is performing across a full range of measures.”

Read The Reports

PDF iconUS-Europe comparison of ATM related operational performance (Edition – 2018)

PDF iconUS-Europe comparison of ANS cost-efficiency trends (2006-2016)