The controllers’ view on a future ATM system for Europe


Everywhere you look, you cannot help but notice the ‘doom and gloom’ about the recent performance of the European ATM system and its prospects for the next few years, writes Dr Luis Barbero of the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers (GATCO).

While 2018 saw Europe’s air traffic increase by 3.8%, making it the busiest year on record with more than 11 million flights, the overall delay in the network increased by 105% compared to 2017. More than 60% of that delay was generated by capacity and staffing issues and the situation is not likely to improve in the near future.

As you can imagine, that has prompted our industry to discuss measures to increase capacity and improve staff efficiency, which was very noticeable during the recent 2019 World ATM Congress in Madrid.

Unfortunately, nobody was willing to discuss the real reason why we got into this situation in the first place and learn from it, namely the focus on cost reduction in Reference Periods 1 and 2 (RP1 and RP2), something which is also present in RP3.

The reference periods set air navigation objectives in terms of safety, capacity, environmental impact and cost efficiency for Member States, with RP3 referring to the period 2020-2024.

Despite this unfavourable situation, the hands-on and pragmatic nature of air traffic controllers has meant professional organisations like the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers (GATCO) in the UK, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) and others have been calling for a different approach avoiding past mistakes and have been actively promoting concrete measures to improve the European ATM system.

This white paper describes the views of those professionals at the coal face, who battle the inefficiencies and shortcomings of the system day in and day out. It details the changes that will help the daily operation of the system in the medium term and, in turn, pave the way for the capacity, flexibility, efficiency and resilience the European ATM system needs if it is to deal successfully with the forecasted traffic growth in the next 20 to 30 years.