An Air Traffic Management Master Plan with Question Marks

On 27-06-2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

If you follow European air traffic management developments, you will have noticed in the news that the ATM Master Plan is undergoing a significant update and the SESAR ATM Master Plan portal promises to have new information on this by mid-2012. About now that is…

There was less discussion about interesting events surrounding the Master Plan update. The original draft updated ATM Master Plan was so poor, the airlines at first proposed that IATA should not support this new version.

As we all know, flatly refusing to support such a cornerstone document does not happen lightly and there must have been serious shortcomings to upset the airspace users so much. Of course it says a lot about the current environment that a Master Plan update, even if only as a draft, can be released at all while containing information that has the potential to rattle the airspace users to this degree.

But what were the real problems as seen by the users?

Let’s first start with a bit of history. As you will see, the background facts are slightly more somber than the rather upbeat news communicated over the official channels during the Master Plan update process.

The high-level Single European Sky (SES) goals are the drivers for and justification of investing in the SES vision. SESAR, as the technology pillar, will only deliver a part of the capabilities required to achieve the high-level goals and originally the ATM Master Plan had been written to reflect the SESAR technology part and not the totality of the SES.

The airspace users had supplied wide ranging critique, comments and proposals aimed at improving the updated Master Plan when it was released for informal consultation. These however were met with either rejection or a response that was not acceptable. This is no news, we had seen in the SESAR definition phase also how ANSPs did their best to keep the drive of the airspace users for advanced features from finding a place in the concept of operations.

When the updated Master Plan hit the street for formal consultation, it was judged simply unacceptable by the airspace users. Three critical issues were identified.

One, the Master Plan redefined the SES high-level goals; two, there was no robust and credible Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) and third, the Master Plan failed to explain how a synchronized deployment will be achieved. These three issues were seen as sufficient reason for refusing to support the new Master Plan.

It is interesting to have a look at these issues in a bit more detail.

The SES high-level goals and the original Master Plan both identified 2020 as the date by which the goals must be achieved. The new draft ATM Master Plan would shift the target date from 2020 to a point in time in the future when traffic levels will have doubled, taking 2005 as the baseline. This is estimated to happen in 2033!

Well, any project manager who tried to bring in a cool 13 year delay to the realization of benefits would probably be looking for a new job the day after he or she announced this, especially if they had failed to consult with the clients… as was the case with the Master Plan. Apparently the fact that, among other benefits, the 50 % reduction of user charges would come only 13 years later than planned and the costs associated with this, were not seen as warranting checking with the airspace users before being put into the draft…

Evidently, the new Master Plan had no intention any more to keep the SES high-level goals as its own goals… However, if that is indeed the case, there is no more outside pressure to keep SESAR on the straight and narrow path originally defined. The alternative would be slow death like all other European ATM projects before it.

The Master Plan is criticized on several accounts also because there is no acceptable CBA. The CBA assumptions were not provided, the CBA is limited to scheduled operations with no Net Present Values (NPV) available for airports, ANSPs and other stakeholders (which will impact the charges that need to be taken into account in the scheduled operations NPVs), the sensitivity analysis is one-dimensional and lacks detail… and so on and on and on. Of course, after a 13 year slippage of the benefits, the least one can expect is a poor CBA…

The mismatch between ground and airborne equipage requirements and the target dates has been an issue for decades with aircraft ending up carrying expensive boxes for years before the ground caught up and benefits would start to accrue. That even under SES things are not as they should be is amply demonstrated by the mandate that requires both ground and air to equip with air/ground digital link and CPDLC capability but does NOT mandate its use. The capacity benefits of CPDLC come only if it is actually used and if the matter is left to the controller’s discretion, no extra capacity can be declared… so the whole thing is useless.

When the Master Plan moved to describing deployment in terms of steps rather than specific dates, the crucial linkage between ground and airborne equipage was all but lost. What happens inside particular steps is anybody’s guess.

Another issue with the Master Plan was that it did not address the relationship with other developments, for instance with the FABs. Obviously it is not possible to create a credible CBA if the environment in which the SESAR deployment will take place is not taken sufficiently into account and even less if it is totally ignored, as it happened in the draft Master Plan.

With the Master Plan draft debacle, the airspace users realized also that even with the SES high-level goals being left unchanged, their achievement in full by the originally stipulated 2020 deadline was now highly questionable. Déjà vue EATCHIP and ATM2000+?

Like so many times in the past, the airlines are now going back to the drawing board to develop a set of new, still challenging but realistic set of goals with which to nudge states and the European Commission (EC)… They will also include proposals for penalties for non-delivery.

Obviously, the SESAR JU and the Commission were less than thrilled when news of the airspace user position was communicated to them. Turning down the Master Plan by the airspace users would be tantamount to open war and this was to be avoided at all costs.

Intense lobbying by the airspace users resulted in a proposal by the Commission. This could be summarized as follows:

– The 2020 high-level goals are to be reinstated;
– A new CBA will be created… some time in 2013;
– Synchronization will be addressed but…

Having the 2020 goals in again is a good thing. That they will only come with a new CBA in 2013 is no surprise, this is a CBA you do not create overnight. What they will come up with remains to be seen of course. The response to the third item is very interesting. The Commission proposed to conduct a good financial analysis and robust sensitivity testing of various scenarios, where deployment is not synchronized. Obviously, this kind of proof is important but with so much pain caused in the past by ground and airborne equipage mismatches, one is tempted to say: if you still need proof, you do not belong here…

For the airspace users, this response was a mixed blessing. It was enough to stop the outright dropping of the Master Plan but was far from being a real answer to all their concerns.

What will happen next?

The matter will go to the SESAR Admin Board meeting on 3 July where they will, in all likelihood, send the Master Plan back for revision, involving the inclusion of the EC proposal described above. Then comes another draft…

The final twist in this matter? The Commission will have to take their proposal also to the Single Sky Committee (SSC). Guess who was the originator of the 13 year shift to the future… yes, you are right. The SSC.

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  1. Manfred MOHR says:

    Steve, thanks for the clear and open word. A little ADDITIONAL privat, fair comment must be alloewd, please. As former AU speaker and member of the AU group etc. we have had a very long learning process (2008 until 2012), inside of the airlines, associations and the AU group. What was the outcome (lesson learned) so far: 1. every step, goal and revison of the ATM MP, CBA and Timeline, needs a strict GOVERNANCE by neutral and independent experts (not paid by SJU and ECTL)! 2. The real AU group (11 Members) was working very hard for a common and realy usefull result and solution. But our Management was not always aware about our targets, profession and problems! 3. more and more work was handed over to third parties, consultant etc. (we have had not enough internal personal), pleas don’t misunderstand me, I am not against that idea, but as I am working now 40 years in this business: you are whistling the song, when the wind blows from the right direction…and money is the key driver! And after 6 month we have to satr sometimes from ZERO with new people, it was so stressful sometimes… and 4. the poilitcal/diplomatic elements are today the main drivers and is hindering to speak (like you have done it) loud the truth! Europe is under pressure, Airline business is not easy, money problems on top – but we can ( WE MUST!) do it only together: building up a better world, Europe and Enviroment for our children – if old guys like me or you are not allowed (courage) to talk about this – we can not be modern, greener, better and enovative! Again many thanks for this interesting artical on that platform! ” Don’t wait what your ANSP will maybe do for you – start working and flying smoother, quiter, burning less fuel and CO2 – together NOW, warmest airmanship regards Manfred

  2. steve says:

    Manfred, thank you very much for your comments, with which I do wholeheartedly agree. It is the mission of Roger-Wilco to talk about things that the industry needs to hear about and which for some reason certain official instances would rather sweep under the carpet. We believe that this is a mature industry that can take the truth and which will also not be mislead by brushed up political statements that have little or no relationship to the truth. We are here to bring to the idustry all words that aim to make this complicated situation better. Cheers, Steve.

  3. Manfred MOHR says:

    Dear Steve and all, here is now the official soft “result” from the EU Transport commitee:
    Time to deliver the Single European Sky, says transport committee
    TRAN Transport − 11-07-2012 – 12:22 Air traffic control in Europe urgently needs modernising in order to reduce congestion, boost safety, reduce flight times, delays and fares, create jobs and cut CO2 emissions, say transport and tourism committee MEPs in a resolution adopted on Tuesday. They want the Commission to put pressure on member states to meet their obligations, possibly with sanctions.

    “We have to have proper, efficient use of air space and 21st century technology for traffic management available to avoid the consumer having to pay twice: in time and in price”, said Jacqueline Foster (ECR, UK), who drafted the non-binding resolution.

    “More than 10 years ago we agreed on the Single European Sky (SES) legislation, now it’s time to deliver”, said Ms Foster. “We need to send a strong message to the member states: put your money where your mouth is. Dragging on and on is not acceptable for us as parliamentarians, for citizens or businesses.”

    Huge economic potential remains untapped

    The Commission estimates that the full and swift deployment of the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) technology would lead to the direct and indirect creation of 328 000 jobs, as well as saving some 50 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

    Passengers would benefit as congestion would be relieved, flight times would be cut by some 10% on average and cancellations and delays would be halved. Air fares could also fall. However, a 10-year delay in implementing SESAR would mean losses of around €268 billion, some 190 000 fewer new jobs created and around 55 million tonnes less CO2 saved, according to the Commission.

    Moves to merge European airspace are too slow

    Member states made firm commitments to merge their national air control spaces into nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) by 4 December 2012 and to evolve progressively towards a single European sky. However, only two such blocks are ready, in the Scandinavian skies and over Ireland and the UK. To speed up the process, MEPs call for the implementation of performance schemes and ask the Commission to adopt a a top-down approach by proposing new legislation, including possible sanctions and, where necessary, EU-funding.

    The Single European Sky initiative was launched in 2004 to reform the architecture of European air traffic management. Its key objectives are to restructure European airspace to create additional capacity and increase the overall efficiency and safety of air traffic.

    Its main features are common rules and standards in a European airspace without borders and the separation of regulatory activities from service provision, to allow air traffic management services to operate across borders.

    The Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) programme provides Europe with high-performance air traffic control infrastructure and technology to develop safe and environmentally-friendly air transport.

    The resolution was adopted by 37 votes to 0, with 1 abstention.


    In the chair: Brian Simpson (S&D, UK)

    Procedure: own-initiative report, BRGDS Manfred

  4. steve says:

    Many thanks Manfred for this!

  5. […] Just read this article and then this one if you were not convinced by our own writing and the comment made by a Lufthansa expert on Roger-Wilco here. […]

  6. […] If you want to see an account of the ATM Master Plan story that is a bit more ciritcal, click here before reading the SJU piece. Then judge for […]

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