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.

Click here to read the full article


NOP – what is this?

On 24/01/2014, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

The abbreviation NOP went through a number of iterations over time, originally we used it to refer to the Network Operations Plan and it now stands for Network Operations Portal.


It is a portal managed and run by EUROCONTROL and it provides a real-time picture of the air traffic flow and capacity management situation over Europe. It is a treasure trove of information and is interesting “reading” for professionals and enthusiasts alike.

A map shows where the current trouble spots are and a section called Network Headline News gives you the… well headline news affecting the network. You can find here information on, among other things, upcoming industrial action.

You want to know how many aircraft are expected on a given day? How many are currently airborne? How many have landed? How many more are still to come? It is all there. Delays in minutes (total, average per flight, en-route, airport…) are also all there for the interested visitor to see.
As if this were not enough, you can request pertinent information for the strategic, pre-tactical and tactical phases of traffic management while a post-operations tab takes you to any day you want to see in the past. Cute.

This is a place well worth a visit or even keeping a tab with this portal open in your browser to check on things every now and again.


The pain of retrofit

On 05/02/2013, in Airline corner, by steve

Airspace users and the air traffic management network interact every day and the operation is usually pretty smooth. Of course nobody is happy when there are delays caused by air traffic control capacity constraints, but this is also part of the game. Increasing demand and competition for the same scarce resources, like runways, makes it almost inevitable that not everyone can fly as they have planned.

As a general rule, aircraft coming out of the factories of Airbus, Boeing and the other airframers have all the equipment on board to operate in any airspace of the world. There are occasions though when the ATM network introduces new requirements aimed at reducing delays, enhancing safety or some similar, recognized and accepted purpose. They have two options: either go for voluntary equipage or issue a mandate.

In theory, voluntary equipage should work when there is a compelling business case for the new feature and airlines will go for it on this basis. In theory. In practice even the best business case tends to bring differing results to different companies and even in sight of clear benefits, some outfits will still have different priorities and they decide not to equip… it is voluntary, after all. The problem here is that most ATM enhancements work only if a fairly large percentage of the affected aircraft population is equipped. If this threshold is not reached, the benefits fail to materialize and those who had taken the voluntary path end up having wasted their money.

A mandate is a different matter altogether. Here a date is set for new aircraft to have the required equipment on board ex-factory and another date, usually a little later, is set for older aircraft to comply with the mandate. The mandate has the force of law and it is generally hated by the airspace users. They much prefer voluntary equipage… But we know it does not work, so back to the mandates.

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Will EUROCONTROL’s New DG Rebuild an Old Dream?

On 11/01/2013, in ATC world, by steve

Frank Brenner, EUROCONTROL’s new DG

Once upon a time, EUROCONTROL had been created to be the air navigation service provider for Europe. Operating a limited number of air traffic control centers, a research institute and a training facility, it would have been the key to an efficient set up not unlike what we find in the United States.

Unfortunately, before the concept could be fully implemented, European States decided that such a pan-European service was not to their liking and they went for a EUROCONTROL that ended up having responsibility for only a relatively small chunk of airspace (although it is one of the busiest) and all later attempts to go further in the original direction were repulsed. Just think of CEATS…

A few functions were allowed to be under the EUROCONTROL umbrella. The Integrated Initial Flight Plan Processing System and the Central Executive Unit (the flow management folks) escaped the State surgeons’ knife and went on to become real success stories. They were later joined by the European AIS Data Base and of course the Central Route Charges Office is also something Europe could no longer exist without.

But air traffic control remained hopelessly fragmented and the costs were much higher than those in the US while the whole operation was a good deal less efficient. A series of projects entailed, each with lofty ideas about repairing European ATM but they all failed due to the same elementary forces that had afflicted the EUROCONTROL dream… The inertia and parochial thinking of European States, who were mainly interested in maintaining the status quo. Change came only where it was really no longer possible to keep things as they were.

Seeing that Europe as a whole was unable to reform its ATM, the European Commission came with a new idea. Let’s divide Europe into 2-3 blocks of airspace cut out to reflect the main traffic patterns and then have States optimize their services inside these blocks. So the FAB (Functional Airspace Block) idea was born. Of course Europe being Europe, instead of 2 or 3 FABs, 9 (NINE!!!) were created reflecting political wishes rather than the needs of air traffic patterns.

Guess what was discovered next? That 5 or 6 European States have roughly the same difficulty in agreeing anything as 20 or 39 do. The whole idea of FABs is fragmentation on a different scale but with 9 of the animals working away practically independently, a recipe for failure was clearly on the table. 4 December 2012 was the date when the FABs should have been operational… The date came and went and the FABs were there in name only to the dismay of the European Commission and the airlines who gave voice to their disappointment in a letter with unusually hard words.

Now EUROCONTROL has a new director.

Frank Brenner, a former VP of the Performance Review Commission, seems to be the bearer of something new… Something that might, one day, restore things to where they should have been decades ago but were always torpedoed by the parochial thinkers.

Centralised services…

Click here to read the full article


2013 – Another year of failures?

On 02/01/2013, in Viewpoint, by steve

It is customary to look back at the end of the year to take stock and then to make all kinds of promises to ourselves for the new year… Promises that we seldom keep.

European air traffic management had a tumultuous year culminating in grumbling by the airspace users on a previously unheard scale and indeed language. The FAB’s were criticized fiercely, air/ground digital link services will be late and the much hyped new version of the SESAR Master-plan barely made it…

So, what promises will Europe make to its long suffering airspace users for 2013? Words are only words of course and we all know the value of New Year promises… But then what can we realistically expect from 2013?

To understand 2012, we do need to go back a little further in history. For the better part of two decades, Europe has had air traffic management improvement projects that did generate new ideas, new solutions which even managed to evolve as traffic patterns and aircraft capabilities were evolving… on paper. Because in reality, very little of the new ideas were put into every-day operational use. The projects failed one after the other. EATCHIP, ATM2000+ went down the drain and the best proof of their failure is the existence of SESAR. Had the previous projects achieved their objectives, there would never have been a need for a monster project like SESAR.

It was of course very convenient to blame EUROCONTROL for the failures and subsequently the only institution in Europe with real ATM knowledge was gutted and basically made all but irrelevant.
Other than a few mavericks, yours truly included, nobody spoke up to tell the world the real reason for all those project failures: that it were recalcitrant States and ANSPs that actually not only threw the wrench into the works but also kept it there to make sure change was all but impossible.

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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.

Click here to read the full article


David McMillan, EUROCONTROL Director General, Assumes Chair of Flight Safety Foundation

On 23/10/2012, in Just to let you know..., by steve

The Flight Safety Foundation  is an independent, non-profit, international organization engaged in research, education, advocacy and publishing to improve aviation safety. The Foundation’s mission is to be the leading voice of safety for the global aerospace community.

It was announced today that EUROCONTROL Director General David McMillan has become the new Chairman of the FSF Board of Governors. McMillan welcomed the attendees to the 65th annual International Air Safety Seminar today in Santiago, Chile as one of his first actions as Chairman. He is the first FSF Chairman from outside the US.

“With his world-wide reputation, David brings a wealth of experience in representing the sterling FSF brand,” said William R. Voss, FSF President and CEO.

“We’re particularly pleased to have David take the helm,” said Dave Barger, JetBlue President and CEO, and FSF Treasurer, “The Flight Safety Foundation will benefit greatly from the perspective David will bring, as its first truly international global leader.”

McMillan is currently the Director General of EUROCONTROL, a role he will continue until the end of 2012. Prior to his time there, Mr. McMillan was the Director General Civil Aviation at the UK Department of Transport and served in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a diplomat in various postings.

In accepting the Chair position, McMillan said: “We cannot rest or become complacent in aviation safety. The Foundation’s key global advocacy role is more important than ever in today’s economic climate. I call on everyone with an interest in aviation safety to consider contributing to the important work of the Foundation.”


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.

Click here to read the full article


Harmonized Transition Altitude for Europe – EASA A-NPA open for comments

On 15/04/2012, in Just to let you know..., by steve

Following completion of the HETA TF work aimed at creating a Regulatory Impact Assessment for the introduction of a harmonized transition altitude for Europe, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published an Advance Notice of Proposed Amendment (A-NPA 2012-01) Harmonised Transition Altitude, which is now open for comments.

You will find this A-NPA on the EASA web-site here.

The deadline for submitting comments is 29 May 2012. The most convenient way of submitting comments is to use the EASA Comment Response Tool (CRT) available at here.

EASA is also asking stakeholders concerned to fill in and submit electronically the questionnaire found on page 8 of the A-NPA.

The problems, including safety concerns, with widely differing transition altitudes in Europe concern every member of the flying community. I would therefore advise you to give due consideration to submitting comments on this subject to EASA and also filling in the questionnaire before the deadline of 29 May 2012.

Your opinion counts!


Performance Review Commission (PRC) 2011 Report (Draft) is now available

On 12/04/2012, in Bookshelf, by steve

The Performance Review Commission (PRC) provides independent advice on European Air Traffic  Management (ATM) Performance to the EUROCONTROL Commission through the Provisional Council.  The PRC was established in 1998, following the adoption of the European Civil Aviation Conference  (ECAC) Institutional Strategy the previous year.

A key feature of this Strategy is that “an independent Performance Review System covering all aspects of ATM in the ECAC area will be established to put greater emphasis on performance and improved cost-effectiveness, in response to objectives set at a political level”.

The PRC reviews the performance of the European ATM System under various Key Performance Areas.  It proposes performance targets, assesses to what extent agreed targets and high-level objectives  are met and seeks to ensure that they are achieved. The PRC’s executive arm, the Performance Review Unit (PRU), analyses and benchmarks the cost-effectiveness and productivity of Air Navigation Service Providers in its annual ATM cost-effectiveness  (ACE) Benchmarking reports. It also produces ad hoc reports on specific subjects.

Through its reports, the PRC seeks to assist stakeholders in understanding from a global perspective  why, where, when, and possibly how, ATM performance should be improved, in knowing which areas  deserve special attention, and in learning from past successes and mistakes. The spirit of these  reports is neither to praise nor to criticize, but to help everyone involved in effectively improving  performance in the future.

The draft report of the Performance Report Commission covering the 2011 calendar year is now available here. It is interesting reading whether you are on the ATM side or the flying side of the business.

If you want to voice your opinion about the products of the PRC, click here. Interested in the PRC in general? Click here.


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