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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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.

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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.

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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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The Single European Sky: 10 years on and still not delivering

On 15/10/2012, in SES News, by steve

We bring you here, in full and unedited, the speech of Mr. Siim Kallas, European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport delivered at the Single European Sky conference at Limassol, Cyprus, on 11 October 2012. As Editor of Roger-Wilco, I would only like to add a few words: how many times have we warned that things were not going the way they should???? Now read what the EC had to say!

Ladies and gentlemen
Almost one year ago, I sounded an alarm bell about the poor progress made towards
achieving the Single European Sky. That is the reason why I chose a particular title for
my speech today: “10 years on and still not delivering”.
The Single Sky is the logical partner to Europe’s single transport market on the ground.
This flagship project is a concrete example of where Europe can make a difference to its
citizens by raising capacity, improving safety and cutting costs.
This was the original ambition more than a decade ago. Frankly, we remain a long way
from creating a single European airspace. The project is still not delivering – but I believe
that we have the tools to make it a success.

Air traffic control is still far too expensive. We are still hampered by a high level of
delays. This is the situation today, mirroring the same situation last year.

So where do we stand today?

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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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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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European Air Traffic Management – A historic clash of concept and politics

On 05/07/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Although you would never know it from reading the rather upbeat communications from the Functional Airspace Block (FAB) and SESAR folks, ATM in Europe is heading towards some major turbulence. That the EC’s Single Sky Committee very nearly managed to kick the deadline of meeting the Single Sky (SES) high-level goals a further 13 years into the future (to 2033!!!) is only one indication of how the whole structure is creaking under the relentless drive of the backward thinkers hell bent on keeping things from happening.

But there is more. What about a collision between a black hole and a complete galaxy? Astronomers amongst you will say this means complete annihilation for the galaxy. Now replace black hole with FAB and the galaxy with SESAR. I am not kidding!

Various high level managers at the European air traffic management organizations hasten to point out that SESAR has always been envisaged as being based on the FAB idea, that they are completely compatible with each other. Quite apart from the not negligible fact that this is simply not true, such claims also show just how little some people seem to understand the difference between the FAB idea and what SESAR represents.

What SESAR is aiming to introduce is a set of paradigm changing concepts, among them Trajectory Based Operations (TBO). I will not go into the details of TBO in this article, if you are interested, read more about it here and here. Let it suffice to say that we left out any mention of FABs in the original SESAR concept of operations for a very good reason. The kind of fragmentation represented by the FABs is not only not needed under the TBO environment of SESAR, it is a hindrance that can potentially kill any hope for true TBO.

What are the Functional Airspace Blocks or FABs? They are most certainly not an air traffic management concept or method of working or even an idea that would make things work better by definition. FABs are in fact a sad admission that Europe did not succeed in creating a continent-wide air traffic management environment that would have come anywhere near satisfying the users’ needs. So, in order to make a little progress, some poor soul somewhere came up with what might appear to be a pragmatic approach. If Europe’s Air Navigation Service Providers as a whole cannot be made to work together properly, lets beat them into a few small groups, focused around newly defined blocks of airspace that have similar user requirements in the hope that these groupings will be more effective in working together in a sensible way.

So, for starters, FABs are not an ATM concept but a political construct aimed at getting the ANSPs to cooperate properly at least on a group by group basis.

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