A4E’S 2019 EU Airspace Delays Wrap-Up.
Our Christmas Wish List for Fewer Delays and Less Disruptions in 2020

By Achim Baumann

It’s the end of yet another year without the Single European Sky (SES) in Europe. The Grinch himself would be pleased; with ATC strikes in France threatening to disrupt holiday travellers and packages alike — it’s far from a merry scene.

But there is room for some cheers: Industry and policy makers rallied like never before this year to put the SES – and the up to 10% reduction in CO2 emissions it could deliver — back on the table in Brussels, with important decisions on regulatory updates agreed at the December Transport Council meeting.

Want more cheers? Compared to 2018, en-route air traffic flight management delays (ATFM) are down almost 11%. We had 24% less weather-related delays and over 40 percent fewer strikes compared to last year, not counting the current #Decemberdisruption in France. This all contributed to an improvement in the overall delay situation this year.

Despite this, however, delays related to structural issues (such as a lack of air traffic controllers and fragmentation of European airspace) increased by 3.7%, revealing the source of the problem remains unaddressed.

To mitigate these challenges and keep delays in check – A4E airlines worked with Eurocontrol’s Network Manager, Air Navigation Service Providers and other airlines to implement specific operational measures during the peak summer traffic season. A4E was sceptical – however slightly optimistic, about the success of these operational measures. We viewed them as putting bandaids on a known problem. Did the measures work? Yes. Are they the only reason for the reduction in delays this year? No! Most importantly, what happens when the bandaids come off?

In parallel, airline traffic growth reduced to just about 0.9% compared to the 3% predicted for 2019. Besides the better weather and fewer strikes during the summer months, airlines also introduced their own operational measures to mitigate delay, namely by allocating the equivalent of around 150 spare aircraft, for example, and by hiring more staff on the ground.

In October, A4E’s COOs returned to Brussels to take stock on the original goals set out in our 2018 “Efficient Airspace Declaration”. The original targets were achieved, but the main goals remained valid. Here’s what the COOs, and our event participants agreed:

✓ Aviation enables a peaceful interaction between people. This should never be taken for granted.

On Efficiency

✓ A network-centric approach to planning and operations is still needed.
✓ We need increased cooperation and more airline involvement.
✓ Technology to start the necessary improvements is already available.

On the Environment

✓ This is as much a business question as it shapes how consumers view our sector.
✓ Every potential contributor to decarbonization efforts needs to act, including airspace design and fuel.
✓ We need structural reforms and airlines to help transport this message.

On Digitalisation

✓ Data sharing is key.
✓ Think outside the box.
✓ Include everyone on the journey to ensure benefits for the environment.

With all this in mind, A4E’s Christmas wish list for 2020 looks like this:
The 2019 delays reveal that the structural issues related to capacity, staffing and airspace design will remain problematic in 2020 – and therefore need to be urgently addressed (top of the list!). This requires a swift implementation of the European Commission’s Airspace Architecture Study recommendations, which A4E will support wherever it can.
Therefore, on airspace reform, we want:

  • A less-congested summer traffic season, with fewer delays and re-routings (for our passengers, and our planet), and — 
  • A sensible update of the SES regulation in the shortest possible timeframe (for A4E). Until Santa delivers, we wish all of our readers a very happy and safe holiday season!