On 12-10-2011, in CDM, by steve
When the mail arrived announcing that EUROCONTROL was cancelling the upcoming CDM group meeting due to severe cuts in their budget, I was not really surprised. This was almost expected as part of what appears to be the killing off of EUROCONTROL. That the CDM group was one of the more successful activities was of course not enough to save the meeting.
Since the announcement, scores of posts appeared on various LinkedIn groups, most of them critical of the decision and regretting this short-sighted action. At least one commenter “reassured” us that this was the way the future will go, the stakeholders want to scale back EUROCONTROL and the ANSPs will take over the coordination of things.
In all the rightful indignation we should not forget a few additional interesting facts that all have a bearing on what is happening to EUROCONTROL to-day. Since I have been there from pretty early on, sharing the time as an ANSP rep and later as an IATA rep, I do have a peculiar perspective which I would like to share with you. Why are these facts important? Because by recognizing them we can hopefully design more effective remedies. So here goes:
1. EUROCONTROL was not perfect. BUT it had many excellent projects, truly forward looking initiatives most of which were consistently slowed down or killed by the stakeholders. I have been in many high level meetings where things got hammered for no other reason but that one or more big ANSPs were not ready to do “it”. Believe it or not, air/ground digital link work in the early phases would have been killed had we not organized a very strong protest… There are more examples.
2. There has been a wrestling match between EUROCONTROL and the EC for a long time. Things got a bit more balanced when the EC burned their fingers in the initial FAB and SES activity caused by the same reluctant stakeholders who were keeping EUROCONTROL from performing properly.
3. It is an open secret that there are certain ANSPs in Europe who have maintained for a long time that they could do a better job of ATM than EUROCONTROL does, being especially critical of the CFMU. The current financial squeeze is not the first initiative to kill EUROCONTROL (but is probably the most effective yet).
4. Giving EUROCONTROL the role of Network Manager is a smokescreen and an incredible affront to the industry. Since EUROCONTROL does not get any additional powers to make things happen (so it will be nothing like the Command Centre in the US), it will be a toothless tiger… Possibly in a few years time it will be established that EUROCONTROL is not being very effective as the Network Manager, so it can disappear completely. Clever…
5. Quite apart from whether or not the FAB is a good idea, thinking that CDM can be coordinated by ANSPs whose European horizon is limited to their FAB and region-wide coordination is possible only via an added layer (the FABs) is total fallacy. Add to this that ANSPs typically get the smallest benefits from CDM (every CBA we did has shown this clearly), what motivation would they have to push CDM? Airports, airspace users, ground handlers are the people who can do this but not ANSPs for whom this is a side issue (contrary to claims to the opposite and with due regard to a few exceptions).
6. Those insisting on cutting EUROCONTROL’s budget totally ignore the vital role EUROCONTROL played in helping smaller member States who typically saw the organization as a source of help and a centre of excellence, rather than a threat to the status quo. The big guys have nicely left the small ones out in the cold.
7. Part of the scaling down of EUROCONTROL comes from the mistaken belief that SESAR will now save the world. It will not. Apart from the huge uncertainties as to how SESAR will be financed, its results will not be there for many years to come. Make no mistake, Implementation Package 1 is not SESAR. It is what we have been doing anyway, in fact it is what ATM2000+ should have achieved years ago (had the stakeholders not thrown a wrench into the works). So SESAR is no replacement for EUROCONTROL…
8. It may sound irrelevant, but lets not forget that the current economic malaise in Europe is due in large part to the lack of political union that would have prevented some governments from doing what they did… This is an issue which economists had warned about at the time the common currency was first decided upon. You can have a preference for the Nation state but economics do not care about that. The rules remain the same and the result is evident. Something very similar has happened to EUROCONTROL. Just imagine what European ATM would look like to-day had the original dream of EUROCONTROL been realized! We have missed that boat but the need for a really effective European body to look after ATM is as real to-day as it has always been, perhaps even more now when we are starting to talk about 4D trajectories and other fine stuff which does not care about individual ANSPs and FABs… They care about efficient seamless operations that take place in an un-fragmented airspace.
I think there is a need for two types of actions and in this context the proposal to hold an alternative CDM meeting in Amsterdam is an excellent one.
Such a meeting would keep the CDM implementation momentum going and would also be a demonstration of its importance. Someone commented on LinkedIn that EUROCONTROL’s experts would probably not be able to participate for the same reason the meeting was cancelled. Well, I have a solution for that. Us from the CDM industry could offer to pay for the travel of say two experts to Amsterdam if EUROCONTROL is indeed so poor that they can no longer afford to send two people on a mission like this. If they come, fine. If the offer is declined, we will know that there is more to this than meets the eye.
We should also send a strong message to those powers that can decide such things that killing EUROCONTROL is a mistake of biblical proportions. First making EUROCONTROL irrelevant amounts to the same thing. Sure, make improvements but among those include a mechanism that would prevent stakeholders from stalling things and rule out obfuscation. Let there be a EUROCONTROL with the powers and privileges European ATM needs… and deserves!