FAB CE ANSPs to the European Commission: stop bugging us!

On 24/06/2014, in FAB News, by cleo

fabHere at Roger-Wilco we have never made a secret of our considered opinion that the introduction of Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to get European air traffic management finally moving was a mistake of biblical proportions. All claims to the contrary, the bloody things do not work and the few results that are there would have been achieved anyway. The only contribution of the FABs was that they did not get in the way… as they do in some cases.

But now the European Commission faces a new phenomenon… rebellion in the ranks!

Our sources at the Commission could not, unfortunately, provide a video of the expression on the face of Mr. Mathew Baldwin, Director Aviation and International Transport Affairs, DG Move, when the letter, signed by the CEO of HungaroControl and sent on behalf of the FAB CE ANSPs, landed on his desk. One does not need an overly active imagination to picture it however.

Apparently the letter was prompted by the expected new volley of exchanges Vice President Kallas was about to launch, criticizing the slow development of things in FAB CE. Calling this process “extremely frustrating” the FAB CE ANSPs inform the director that “these letters (from Mr. Kallas – Ed.) serve to increase our workload and divert our attention, whiles achieving little by way of results”. They also reassure the Director that the ANSPs concerned are doing their best to meet their obligations and that they need to make these steps and the achievements clearly visible.

The purpose of the letter is to find ways of working together and “end the volleying of increasingly rancorous letters”.

These are hard words and certainly highly unusual in communications with somebody in Mr. Baldwin’s position. Clearly, there is something very wrong here.

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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.

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Does European ATM know where it is going?

On 13/02/2014, in FAB News, by cleo

fabAlmost forgotten in the mist of European air traffic management history is an organization called EUROCONTROL. It was invented to be the FAA of Europe… or something like that. It would have been the provider of ATM for the continent using an efficient, correctly sized infrastructure and number of ATC Units.

Before it could become anything like it was intended, European States basically killed the idea and left EUROCONTROL with exactly 1.5 centers plus a bit of training and research facilities. The famous and often damned fragmented European ATM system was re-born.

When delays went through the roof and airlines raised hell about it, a series of pan-European projects were initiated (EATCHIP, ATM2000+) were initiated, only to fail miserably. Not because EUROCONTROL was not up to the job… but because States made sure the status quo was not disturbed. Then the European Commission joined the fray…

When the EC realized that even they would not be able to move Europe to work as one, they embraced the weird idea of Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB)… a concept that is a variation on the old fragmented scenario hidden under a fancy name. To say that the FAB’s were not exactly a success is the understatement of the century.

After plodding along for many years with mighty little to show for it, FABs are now consolidating.

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Is there a future for the FABs?

On 05/12/2012, in FAB News, by steve

In view of the huge effort that went into creating at least the legal framework for the nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) and the recent hard words from the industry blasting states and the European Commission for the failure of the FABs to deliver anything really useful by the December 4 deadline, the question in the title may sound peculiar.

However, it is not as outlandish as it may sound. Let’s give a closer look at what the FABs really are and then try to answer the question.

Europe has been struggling with its fragmented air traffic management system for decades. While the United States was handling a lot more traffic equally safely but at a much lower cost to the airlines, Europe was going from one failed ATM project to the other with mighty little to show for it. EATCHIP in several phases followed by ATM2000+, all filled with lofty aims and truly forward looking ideas… and all coming to a virtual halt because of the reluctance of European states to change the status quo.

The European Commission’s Single European Sky (SES) initiative was supposed to put the regulatory oomph behind the drive to repair European ATM but even that has proved to be lacking. SES I was followed by SES II…

This brings us to the famous Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB). Some like to present this idea as revolutionary but in fact the FAB concept was nothing more than an admission that Europe, as a whole, was incapable of agreeing on how to build a better ATM system and by reducing the task to more manageable chunks, it should work better. Of course things blew up right at the start… Instead of the 3 maximum 4 FABs Europe would ever need we ended up with nine (!), all created mainly on political grounds, clearly a poor start for what should have been a functional redistribution of European ATM.

Having basically adulterated the original FAB concept by increasing the number of FABs to nine, European ANSPs left the whole thing dormant for a couple of years and it took the European Commission some serious saber rattling before they started to build something… reluctantly at first then with more enthusiasm when they realized that the FAB concept is the perfect thing to hide behind and be rid of troublesome European requirements. If members of a given FAB agree on something that is different from what Europe as whole would need, that is too bad. It is not by accident that to this day, there is no effective working structure above the FABs to force them to work in harmony on a European level. The EC implementing rules cover certain aspects but as in the past, the devil is in the detail… and FABs rule there individually. The idea that EUROCONTROL is the network manager (with no real powers to do much) does not solve anything either.

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Here is the IATA statement on FABs: FABs Need to Deliver Results

On 05/12/2012, in FAB News, by steve

It is IATA policy not to co-sign statements with other organizations. They have, however, issued their own statement concerning the FAB situation. Here it is:

Brussels, 4 December 2012 – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on the European Commission, EU member states and Europe’s Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) to ensure that Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) are delivering real results. The call came on the deadline date for European states to set up agreements grouping Europe’s 27 ANSPs into 9 FABs as a critical step towards creating the Single European Sky (SES).

“Whilst the FAB agreements are mostly in place, there are no signs of real consolidation or efficiencies of scale. EU member states have paid lip-service to European legislators and turned this key reform into an administrative box-ticking exercise and continue to operate their ANSPs in silos,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The SES could help to restore competitiveness to the European air transport sector by generating EUR 5 billion in cost savings for airspace users and reduce CO2 emissions. “The SES savings are crucial for all airlines, especially those in Europe who are suffering through the economic crisis,” said Tyler.

The Single European Sky high-level 2020 targets are to (1) increase safety performance by a factor of 10; (2) reduce the impact of flights on the environment by 10%; (3) provide air traffic management services at 50% less cost; and (4) increase capacity 3-fold. Delivery of these targets is behind schedule. IATA calls for two concrete actions to put SES back on track:

The European Commission must act to hold non-compliant member states to account for failing to deliver on this and other key SES measures. Additionally, it has become clear that the regulatory framework must include a strong and independent economic regulator.
The member states and their service providers must be required to consolidate into the 9 FABs as agreed and make the real-world changes to their operations that will fulfill the requirements of the regulation; namely to optimize airspace along air traffic flows and to optimize their use of human and technical resources.
“Reaching the SES targets, while challenging, is technically feasible. Only a lack of political will is getting in the way. Cost efficient air transport infrastructure is important to the 7.8 million jobs and EUR 475 billion in European business that is supported by the air transport industry. To push SES forward, EU member states and ANSPs need to make the FABs work—delivering real savings and emissions reductions.” said Tyler.


Airline industry condemns EU Member States on lack of progress on FABs to date

On 04/12/2012, in FAB News, by steve

The Association of European Airlines (AEA), the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA), the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the International Air Carrier Association (IACA) are united in condemning EU Member States for their reluctance to properly implement Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), a key ingredient for the successful delivery of Single European Sky II (SES II).

Member States have failed to honour their obligations under the Single European Sky Regulation to properly implement FABs by the stipulated deadline of 4 December 2012. They have had eight years to comply with the Regulation, yet they have not moved much further than the mere creation of FABs.

The intent of the legislation with respect to FABs was to drive defragmentation of European airspace, enabling significantly enhanced efficiency, while delivering cost-effectiveness improvements. The current situation of individual Air Navigation Service Providers in the 27 Member States around Europe operating as independent service providers is extremely inefficient – to the extent that inefficiencies alone cost the industry over €5 billion every year. Such fragmentation and resultant inefficiency further cause an unnecessary 13 million tonnes of CO2 to be emitted per year, equivalent to 10% of current aviation emissions in EU airspace.

The Heads of the airline associations stated:

“The current situation is scandalous. It is not enough to create Functional Airspace Blocks in name only. FABs must be demonstrably business-driven, generating tangible operational efficiencies, significant cost savings and environmental benefits.”

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Fragmentation then and now…

On 23/07/2012, in FAB News, by cleo

In previous writings on the problems we see with the concept of Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB), the authors have often compared the European ATM fragmentation the nine FABs are bringing to the situation we had back in the early 70s. Like all comparisons, this one is not perfect by far, but there are enough similarities to make one worry. Are they going to address those issues?

Because let’s not forget that the idea of FABs came as a result of Europe’s dismal failure to agree on a region-wide improvement to the way air traffic management was being done. If there is no regional solution, let’s try to get things sorted out on the level of blocks of airspace that can be seen as functionally interrelated. Going for an airspace based concept when the modern approach was trajectory based was the first fatal flow… But much worse was the political interference which resulted in nine FABs instead of the 2 or 3 that would have been warranted on a purely air traffic management basis. Anyway, the FABs took a long time to get things going, sorting out organizational and political issue first and it is only now that they are slowly turning to getting the ATM aspects addressed. Based on the noises coming from every direction, coordinating things between 4 or 5 ANSPs is not that much easier than it was between 27 or so. Because the FABs are working on their own, applying their own understanding to the ATM concepts at hand, with solutions defined that are optimized for the given FAB environment, they are fast becoming castles unto themselves. However, even the largest FAB is pretty small from an aircraft’s point of view and a lot of the traffic a FAB will encounter does not stay exclusively in that FAB. An average European flight will encounter several FABs as it negotiates the suddenly not-so-single European sky. So, we know that ANSPs in a given FAB have some trouble agreeing things (nothing new there…). Who will get the FABs themselves to agree to things that affect a bunch of them? That is what used to be the European level… and the circle is round. I can already see the European FAB coordination meeting where reps of the various FABs will discover that a lot of their hard won agreements that appeared to be perfect inside their FAB do not really line up with the thinking of the FABs downstream. Then what?

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The FAB Saga. 2012 Edition.

On 02/04/2012, in FAB News, by steve

2012 is a significant year for the European Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB). Namely, they must all be fully operational by December this year. All nine of them. Let’s have a quick look at these things to get a good overview of their status and impact.

First and foremost I think one needs to clarify that if the words ”fully operational” as applied to the FABs in this context were to be used to describe an aircraft, we would see engineering drawings pasted onto old and creaky desks and little more.

Each FAB is in fact an entity composed of two or more ANSPs who have banded together mainly on political grounds. The ANSPs in each FAB have had a horribly difficult time forging agreements amongst themselves and most of the time work focused on political and financial issues with little attention to really substantial operational improvements. Work on how the FABs themselves will cooperate with each other across Europe has hardly started. Now these new fortresses of ANSP might must submit their plans to the European Commission by 24 June so that airspace users and other stakeholders may comment on them. With most of Europe going on holidays in July and August, stakeholder comments are unlikely to be available before the end of September (and then I am being extremely charitable). So, the FABs will have all of two months to implement those plans or if they do it earlier, it will be tantamount to ignoring stakeholder comments. Where have we seen that before?

This whole FAB craze is of course a questionable thing that is likely to turn out to be the most expensive flop yet… until SESAR flops but that is still some way down the road.

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BLUE MED FAB Newsletter No. 3

On 15/08/2011, in FAB News, by steve

In case you were wondering what folks are doing inside a FAB, help is at hand in the form of the BLUE MED FAB Newsletter No. 3.

With EUROCONTROL now having been officially appointed as the Network Manager, there is the inevitable interview with Joe Sultana, the boss of EUROCONTROL’s Directorate Network Management. Then an interview with Patrick Ky about SESAR is followed by news of the Malta Free Route real time simulation and the BLUE MED OLDI real time simulation. Perhaps it is surprising to have a free route and an OLDI RTS being reported on alongside each other… OLDI is old and should have been replaced by SYSCO long ago. But the newsletter, to its credit, discusses frankly how the legacy systems in the BLU MED FAB area are trying to co-operate for best effect and how they are looking forward to the time when SESAR will bring the long awaited changes.

You will also read about the events at the 5th meeting of the BLUE MED FAB Governing Body Meeting where Dr. Georg Jarzembowsky, the European Commission’s Coordinator for the FAB initiatives and the Single European Sky reassured the participants that the implementation of FABs is a key element of the Single European Sky legislation and of the European Union’s transportation policy.

Click the picture to download the newsletter.


When is a FAB not a FAB?

On 09/08/2011, in FAB News, by cleo

We have written quite a lot about the Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB), their dangers and their impact on SESAR.

Although these days most everything is claimed to be happening in the context of the various FABs, the picture is far from ideal. It is not unusual to hear in meetings or in discussions with various ANSP reps that this or that subject is very “sensitive” in their FAB and one should be careful mentioning it. Of course it would have been naïve to think that States who were less than exemplary in working together under the EUROCONTROL umbrella would suddenly turn into sheep and cooperate smoothly within the FAB concept. Parochial thinking and the protection of their own turf remain in place and it will take long and hard work to overcome the old reflexes.

But the FAB concept seems to be evolving in a way its inventors probably never intended. You will have noticed in the news the announcement of various co-operation agreements between Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) being created apparently in parallel with the FABs they are participating in. In spite of the nice words of these new alliances, they begged the question right from the start: why? If the FAB is such a great thing and they are already in it, why form an alliance on top of it.

Now we may have the answer…

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