European airlines report on summer mitigation plan for delays

Europe’s airlines have been ‘working behind the scenes’ with all relevant stakeholders to develop a mitigation plan for delays this summer.

Together with the Network Manager and air navigation service providers (ANSPs), the Airlines For Europe (A4E) group have put specific measures in place to reduce delays at known ATC bottlenecks based on experience gained from last summer.

These measures will move flights out of congested airspace  – where the ANSP cannot provide adequate capacity and/or staffing levels – and into other areas which are able to accommodate the additional traffic.

“We all have a common interest in improving the delay situation on behalf of our passengers,” said A4E policy director Achim Bauman. “Altogether some 180 different pan-European re-routings and other measures stand ready to be implemented or are already in use since the end of April.”

“Unfortunately, re-routings will by no means increase efficiency or reduce CO2 emissions levels – yet, they represent a short-term “fix” to the current ATC capacity and staff challenges and ultimately seek to lessen the impact on passengers at all costs.”

A4E said it will closely monitor the effectiveness of agreed measures and will report back on the situation in the coming months.

Eurocontrol’s Network Manager published its 2018 annual report, stating that the average en-route air traffic flow management (ATFM) delays totalled 1,73 min per flight compared to a target of 0,5 min per flight. That’s a delay of nearly three times the expected target. This can mainly be attributed to:

• En-route air traffic control (ATC) capacity constraints (28%), en-route weather (19%) and en-route ATC staff shortages (17%);
• An increase in traffic of 3.8% compared to 2017, representing over 11 million additional flights.

“Unfortunately,” added Bauman, “the first few months of this year are not looking any better than last year. En-route ATFM delays in April 2019 increased by almost 40% compared to the previous month, for example. On average, some 757 flights per day had an en-route ATFM delay of at least 15 minutes, which is 7% more flights compared to April 2018. This trend is deeply concerning.”

A4E said it hoped that recent recommendations stemming from the EU’s Airspace Architecture Study (AAS) and Wise Persons Group (WPG) on how to improve EU airspace feature actionable items which require an implementation plan with clear roles and responsibilities. A4E said the focus should be on:

  • implementing the airspace reforms as recommended by the AAS (e.g. re-structuring the airspace to be aligned with traffic flows or cross border airspace);
  • preparing for a network-centric approach to flight planning and enabling air traffic controllers and pilots to reap the benefits of digitalisation.

“In both cases, what has already started with bringing a service-centred approach forward by integrating airlines and other airspace users needs to continue,” said Bauman.