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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Single Sky: Commission acts to unblock congestion in Europe’s airspace

On 10/07/2013, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

ECOn 11 June 2013, the European Commission acted to speed up the reform of Europe’s air traffic control system. The Commission is looking to head off a capacity crunch as the number of flights is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 10-20 years.1 Inefficiencies in Europe’s fragmented airspace bring extra costs of close to 5 billion Euros each year to airlines and their customers. They add 42 kilometres to the distance of an average flight forcing aircraft to burn more fuel, generate more emissions, pay more in costly user charges and suffer greater delays. The United States controls the same amount of airspace, with more traffic, at almost half the cost.

EU Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, said: “Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky. We cannot afford to continue this way. Today we are strengthening the nuts and bolts of the system so it can withstand more pressure and deliver ambitious reforms even in difficult economic times. We need to boost the competitiveness of the European aviation sector and create more jobs in the airlines and at airports”.

The Commission is proposing to update the four regulations creating the Single European Sky (SES), and amend rules governing the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Key elements of the proposals known as SES2+ include:

Better safety and oversight

Safety remains the first priority for aviation. EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) audits have shown great deficiencies in the oversight of air traffic control organisations in the Member States. The Commission is proposing full organisational and budgetary separation of national supervisory authorities from the air traffic control organisations whom they oversee, while at the same time ensuring sufficient resources are given to the National Supervisory Authorities to do their tasks. This will have a very positive effect both on oversight and safety. Many supervisory authorities are currently under-resourced and dependent on the support of the entities they are supposed to oversee.

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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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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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A Pragmatic Approach to modernising Europe’s Air Traffic Management Systems – SJU Press Release

On 16/10/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Just a few days after the rather damning speeach of the European Commission’s Transport Commissioner, blasting Europe for 10 years of essential inaction on the Single European Sky (SES), the SESAR Joint Undertaking published the press release you can find below. The SJU strikes a rather more optimistic tone although the dissonance between these two communicatons is in itself something that is food for thought for those trying to understand where Europe is going with its Air Traffic Management system. If you want to see an account of the ATM Master Plan story that is a bit more ciritcal, click here before reading the SJU piece. Then judge for yourself…

“Europe’s Single Sky modernisation is taking further shape with the update of the European Air Traffic Management Master Plan. This is the newly agreed strategic plan providing technological and operational roadmaps to all aviation stakeholders. It allows for timely, coordinated and efficient deployment of new technologies and procedures in the timeframe to 2030. Its content has been aligned with International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBU), in order to secure global interoperability and synchronisation.

At its core, the Master Plan is performance-driven, responding to the four Key Performance Areas (KPAs) of environment, cost-efficiency, safety and capacity. These criteria, set by the European Commission, form part of the wider set of ICAO KPAs.
First drafted in early 2009, the Master Plan is intended to evolve with time. This 2012 version helps to better achieve the high level goals of Single European Sky (SES), as set by the European Commission. Key features of the new Master Plan are:
1. A revision of the performance objectives contributing to SES’ high level goals.
The results achieved so far in the R&D programme have helped determine intermediate performance targets feeding into SES High level goals. These revised targets correspond to the contribution of SESAR, one (for technology) of the five SES pillars (the other four are Performance, Safety, Airports and Human factor).
In its first of three change steps, SESAR will contribute to:
o -2.8% in fuel efficiency
o -6% in cost efficiency
o -40% in accident risk per flight hour
o +27% in airspace capacity

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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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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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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.

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European ATM Blasted Again

On 04/05/2012, in Viewpoint, by steve

One of the many yardsticks you can use to measure the passage of time is the frequency you encounter air traffic management experts who stare at you as if you were from the moon when you mention EATCHIP or ATM2000+. Yes, there is a whole new generation of experts working at the air navigation service providers (ANSP) who have never, or hardly ever, heard of those flagship projects which were supposed to save European ATM in the 80s and 90s.

Then there are ANSP managers, who pretend that they have never heard of them. They are the ones who whine and cry saying that the targets being set by the European Commission as part of the Single European Sky (SES) legislation are too ambitious and they cannot be achieved in the short time available.

These managers act as if they had to start from scratch. As if the initial aims of SES were not in fact just an incremental improvement over what the ANSPs have, supposedly, already achieved as part of the ATM2000+ project. At least I cannot recall any of them having said that ATM2000+ was a failure and that they had done mighty little.

ATM2000+ was a failure of course simply because no agreement could be reached on anything while each ANSP was busy protecting their turf…

The EC was triggered to intervene by this exact failure. They let loose the FAB concept and SES I and when both faltered, SES II. The longer term future was to be assured by SESAR.

With all this heavy artillery you would think European ATM was finally home free. No way!

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