Apropos GATE ONE… Is there hope for European Air Traffic Management?

On 22-05-2014, in FAB News, by steve

trylThe fragmented nature of the way air traffic management was being provided in Europe had been identified decades ago as the root cause of the continent’s problems. This is why airlines are paying much more for inferior service and why repeated attempts were made to remedy the situation.

This being Europe, the real issues were never addressed. It would have been political suicide for anyone to suggest that may be, just may be the opposite of fragmentation is united, uniform, single, optimized, right-sized… Make no mistake, some of these words have been brandished around lately, as in Single European Sky… but in practice they were meaningless.

Instead of finally getting to the point where EUROCONTROL would have been developed to be THE European organization to provide efficient air traffic management, European states managed to set in motion a process that has two effects: EUROCONTROL is doomed to die and the fragmentation of ATM in Europe is set to grow to levels never before seen.

It is unfortunate that the European Commission, correctly recognizing that the existing system did not work, has not had the good sense to also recognize that the problem was not EUROCONTROL, but the way member states were behaving as part of that organization. Being blind to the real problem, the EC went down the dead-end street of the Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) in the mistaken belief that if Europe could not be brought to work together as a whole, it would be different if things were handled in chunks… FABs in other words.

So, instead of reducing fragmentation, they increased it and what do we find? Surprise, surprise, the FABs (those that exist at all) are facing the same problems and are failing in most of the same ways, as Europe did in the past.

There is this saying that if the whorehouse is not performing well, you change the girls, not the furniture. Apparently the EC is not aware of this old wisdom… or they are possibly afraid of the “girls”.

Anyway, as if the horror of the FABs was not enough, they started to band into strategic alliances… super FAB’s as it were to be able to represent their regional interests better, as they say… But where are they planning to do this? The European level ATM organization is on its death-bed…

One of these son-of-FABs is GATE ONE. The strategic alliance of 11 national air navigation service providers (ANSPs) covering the entire airspace of the three Central and Eastern European functional airspace blocks (Baltic FAB, Danube FAB and FAB CE) is now up against the current European reality.

Four GATE ONE members have already secured via prior arrangements their participation in the bidding consortium going after the lucrative SESAR Deployment Manager work, leaving seven ANSPs (ANS/CR, BHANSA, BULATSA, HUNGAROCONTROL, LPS, ROMATSA and SLOVENIACONTROL) out in the cold… At their 15 May meeting in Budapest, the guys left out of this opportunity “expressed their serious concerns about the arbitrary limitation of any realistic possibilities for the future direct involvement of the small and medium size Central and Eastern European ANSPs in the governance structures of SESAR DM. It is a firm belief of this representative group that the principle of equal opportunity to participate in the SESAR DM management structures must be legally and practically guaranteed.

Of course SESAR is a story unto itself and I will not go into the details of how partners are selected there… may be in a next article.

The complaint coming from the Budapest meeting is of course justified but the issue it highlights goes way beyond GATE ONE and spells trouble for Europe as a whole.

Look at it locally… what kind of strategic alliance is the one where one third of the partners carve out the cake for themselves and leave the others to resort to whining post-event with absolutely no assurance of success. Sure, the lucky ones got in via previous arrangements but what did they do for their less fortunate brethren?

Look at it globally… The big guys are taking it all and who the hell cares about those on the periphery? It is very clear that those in management positions at ANSPs across Europe no longer remember the times when hour long delays in Scandinavia or the UK were due to capacity problems to the South and to the East and these were not resolved until everyone was brought on-board on an equitable footing.

I have said many times before and I will repeat it again that killing EUROCONTROL and trying to solve things via the FAB monsters is the biggest mistake European ATM has ever made.

This is going to cost a lot of money to the airlines and in the end the travelling public before someone somewhere realizes (as they did a few decades ago) that there is no other solution but to have a EUROCONTROL as it was originally envisaged and having rules that force member states to cooperate rather than obfuscate as part of a true Single European Sky under the framework of a true EUROCOTNROL.

The big ANSPs in Europe are still under the delusion that they can do it better and there is no need for a EUROCONTROL… Behind the sad smoke screen of the FABs and the SES they are already failing to achieve anything and the only reason ATM in Europe has not collapsed yet is that traffic is still relatively low. But the day of reckoning is coming.

Yes, I do have a message for the GATE ONE folks. Face up to it: the FABs are a disaster, SES is not working and some of you are being treated like rags because the big guys do not like interference from the side.

Political statements are nice but what use are they? If you really want things to change, speak up against European ATM fragmentation, speak up against a repeat of the mistakes of the past and push for a European solution.

A true EUROCONTROL as it were.

This is important because the system now being put together is a dead end and even if finally everyone is involved, it will not be any better. A dead-end is a dead end, no matter how many people mill around the wall when it is finally hit.

Change the girls, not the furniture.


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