Storm rising?

On 11/08/2012, in Viewpoint, by steve

If you read the official communiqués from SESAR and EUROCONTROL, it is easy to be lulled into the perception that all is well on the European air traffic management front and we are more than ready to face any sudden jump in traffic demand. If, on the other hand, you listen to the jungle telegraph or, increasingly, look at reports in the trade press, a very different picture emerges.

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.

Air Traffic Management in Europe has always been a minefield of political wrangling and adding the EU to the combination has not really improved matters. SESAR is a flagship project with huge industry interests at play while also being a sensitive spot for the Commission who would of course not like to see SESAR fail, especially after the less than stellar performance of SES and the FABs.

It is striking to observe the difference in communications about the US’s NextGen and the European SESAR. NextGen is far from problem free and you read about it regularly. The problems and possible solutions are being openly discussed and credibility is not adversely affected by this openness. At the same time, SESAR appears to be problem free… and this is what kills credibility in the eyes of all but the most short sighted experts.

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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!


The EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) – why the fuss?

On 11/03/2012, in Environment - Without hot air, by steve

All matters environmental are sensitive and aviation has been in the cross-hairs of the environmental lobby for a long time. Somehow the substantial improvements already made and those in the pipeline have not generated the level of interest they deserve. The fact that the still hopelessly inefficient air traffic management system in places like Europe is one of the biggest potential sources of new emission reduction has also been more or les ignored.

Not so the ETS… So what is the ETS?

This scheme makes it possible for companies that produce harmful emissions like CO2 to buy credits that allow them to continue their activities and continue spewing out the bad stuff up to the level of the credit they have purchased. The idea is that by making you pay for your bad habits, you will be motivated to mend your ways, i.e. improve your technology so that your activity becomes less polluting.

The airline industry, responsible for a mere 2 % of all industrial emissions, has been exempt from this scheme until 1 January 2012 and for good reason. After some initial hesitation and misunderstandings, the aviation industry did get its act together and in fact became one of the most ardent supporters of emission reduction. In fact, aviation was set by many experts as an example to follow by other industries in recognition of its worldwide efforts and common action plan.

One thing the airlines did not want was regional solutions to emission reduction… For companies flying essentially all over the world, diverging regional requirements and administrative regimes would be a nightmare that increased costs unnecessarily.

The natural forum to develop a worldwide solution for the reduction of aviation emission would have been ICAO but like so often in the past, progress was glacial, to say the least. The European Union lost its patience and announced that they would extend the ETS, already operational though of questionable effectiveness in other industries, to aviation also if no ICAO solution was forthcoming. This was the last thing the airlines wanted.

Not only is the ETS a purely regional solution, the way it was going to be applied to aviation would distort the market in all kinds of ways. I have written about this in the past so will not go into the details again here.

One thing is certain, the whole issue is turning into a perfect, albeit world wide, mess.

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When Titans speak

On 25/05/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Mid-March Aviation Week published a double interview in which Canso director general Graham Lake and Air Traffic Control Association president/CEO Peter F. Dumont spoke their minds about air traffic management developments on both sides of the Atlantic.

The interviews were refreshing and revealing. They both spoke about the prospects of SESAR and NextGen frankly and eschewing the usual bluster and we-have-won type of text so frustrating in the “formal” communications.

Mr. Lake tells us that it is not yet clear where the 4 billion euros implementation funding needed by SESAR will come from… With SESAR well into its 8-year life-span and 2.1 billion euros being burned through as you read this, such an uncertainty about the future is cause for concern to say the least.

He also makes the point that the new ATM system will still need people to operate it. He then goes on to say that some 70 % of the typical ANSPs costs are staff related, expressing surprise that parts of the ATM network face disruptions as a result of labor disputes and demands for unsustainable labor agreements. As an industry, we cannot allow this to continue he states. There is a strong message here and one is almost tempted to compare the number of pilots and other airline stuff who lost their jobs because of the economic crisis with the number of ATC staff who had been handed the pink slip for the same reason…

Click here to read the full article


Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) – the EC’s biggest blunder?

On 30/04/2011, in FAB News, by pbn

That the EC meant well when they originally came up with the idea of Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) is not in question. That they did not anticipate the monster they were creating can be put down to the engaging naivety of someone venturing into the jungle of European air traffic management for the first time. That IATA was blind enough to support the FAB concept shows how desperate they were for a solution, any solution, to the continued ills of ATM.

As we head towards a summer promising to be vary bad in terms of delays and in the midst of the general euphoria about FABs and ANSP alliances, it should be interesting to look into the history of the FAB idea and its present reality. If for no other reason then to learn why it will not bring the improvements the industry craves.

Those amongst you with the longest memory will recall EATCHIP and ATM2000+ the two European flagship air traffic management projects which dragged on for years and in spite of Ministers of Transport signatures on the ATM2000+ documents, they delivered very little. We suffered through meeting after meeting, all kinds of new groups were created but in the end, when it came to implementation the deadlines always seemed to slip to a date comfortably in the future. Comfortably for the service providers and frustratingly for the airspace users. Europe was treading water and the industry did not drawn but this was in spite of ATM2000+ rather than because of it.

The European Commission was taking an increasing interest in the problems of air traffic management and seeing that it was not possible to create a truly European project, they decided to take a pragmatic approach when they finally intervened. Enter the Functional Airspace Block or FAB. If you cannot get the whole of Europe to work on a harmonized system, have at least a few groups of ANSPs work together… A nice idea which unfortunately ignored the fundamental problems and realities of European ATM.

The FAB concept was met with a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm. Working together, giving up even a small bit of their independence was anathema to the ANSPs and any idea coming from the EC was suspect to begin with. The first round of the Single European Sky regulations was struggling to take off at about the same time and was kept firmly on the ground for the very same reason…

Then SESAR came along. This was a truly European undertaking working to define a truly European air traffic management system. SESAR’s definition phase was hard going but on that particular battle field it was no longer possible to go against the pan-European solution, so instead the proposed new paradigms and solutions were attacked with the usual gusto.

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FAB brings European diversity into SESAR – the one thing we were all waiting for?

On 12/03/2011, in FAB News, by cleo

The latest issue of ATC Global Insight was nothing if not extremely entertaining. In a previous article Steve described why the reported claim of DSNA’s boss about SESAR having been built on FABs is total nonsense.

But it seems there was more… Insight tells us that Mr. Georges assured his audience that “FAB will bring European diversity” into SESAR. Oh boy!!!!

I hope somebody has misunderstood something here. I know that it is very fashionable to say that Europe’s strength is in its diversity (cultural, language, outlook, temperament and so on) but diversity in air traffic management is not so much a strength as a huge failure.

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First concrete SESAR achievements in 2011

On 08/03/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

At the biggest international Air Traffic Management exhibition, ATC Global being held this week in Amsterdam, the SESAR Joint Undertaking presents the first components of the future European ATM system. The aim of this first SESAR Release is to group projects and validation exercises and to start delivering together with the 49 SESAR members and associate partners tangible results at a reindustrialization stage as of this year.

“SESAR is set to modernize air traffic management in Europe. Recent projections predict for Europe a doubling of flights by 2030 compared to 2009 levels. This equals 16.9 million movements; everybody knows that the current air traffic management system cannot cope with such an increase. SESAR is prepared to address this challenge by presenting first benefits for the aviation community this year, just as planned.”, says Patrick Ky, Executive Director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

Periodic releases

With the commitment of the private and public partners involved in the work program, SESAR will deliver results through periodic releases.

The first SESAR Release is the outcome of a thorough status review of the approximately 300 SESAR projects to see where early results can be achieved to
quicker serve the aviation world. Projects which are included in the 2011 Release will have been verified and validated in an operational environment to allow for a decision on industrialization and subsequent deployment.

With the first SESAR Release, the European ATM modernization program reveals initial components of the future European ATM system. The validation exercises will cover the areas of efficient and green terminal airspace operations, the initial 4D trajectory, end to end traffic synchronization, as well as integrated and collaborative network management. Concrete benefits will be achieved for airlines, pilots, airports, air traffic controllers, pilots, passengers and the environment.

Improved procedures, tool sets, prototypes

Through simulations, prototypes, shadow mode or live and flight trials, the SESAR members will perform 29 validation exercises all over Europe, the first of which have already taken place in February.

Click here to read the full article


Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) – New category on Roger-Wilco

On 03/01/2011, in FAB News, by steve

FABs may be the highest political priority for the European Commission and they certainly are the source of high flying political statements, but I still do not like them. Why? Well, the idea when it first came up was a good one. At the time, functional fragmentation of air traffic management in Europe was costing airspace users billions and in spite of all the projects being considered, there was little hope for structural reform.

In order to break the logjam, and fully aware that there was no hope for getting the whole of Europe to co-operate and create a single sky, the EC very pragmatically proposed that groups of States get together and create functional airspace blocks (FAB) along the lines of their ATM “interests”, optimizing and aligning procedures and services inside their FAB… This way, the argument went, at least there would be a single sky of sorts inside the FAB and later on the FABs themselves could be harmonized for a truly single European sky.

Pragmatic and logical as the idea may have been, it was not received by the ANSPs with open arms.

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Snow shuts down airports in Europe

On 21/12/2010, in The lighter side, by steve


Shorter night routes in FABEC – is this an achievement?

On 03/12/2010, in FAB News, by cleo

Working in air traffic management on occasion one gets the impression that a lot of people have very short memories. Take for instance the proud announcement from FABEC (Functional Airspace Block Europe Central) to the effect that as part of the harmonization of European airspace, shorter night routes are being offered on 115 cross-border connections. FABEC as you may know is one of the elements in the new style European airspace fragmentation called FAB. Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Switzerland are working together to bring improvements in their “joint” airspace.

The announcement includes the usual claims about the airlines being able to save 800 thousand nautical miles per year translating to 4800 tonnes of fuel saved and 16000 tonnes less CO2 emissions. Nice… but what is wrong with this picture?

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