43 States, as many situations and a unique Network Manager

21 September 2016

Forty-three EU and non-EU States; a peak of 34,594 flights on 9 September this year; 1,940 aircraft operators; 520 airports; 68 control centres. These are the components that make up the partnership around Europe’s Network Manager, forming a system that brings 2.27 million passengers a day to their destination safely.

But in more concrete terms, what does a week in aviation operations look like, with so many players in the field? The week 12-18 September is a good example.

Capacity issues, technical failures, social unrest, bad weather, military exercises and staffing gaps are recurrent issues that affect the ATM network. Sometimes, they happen at the same time. It is the role of the Network Manager - in partnership with the air navigation service providers and the airlines - to understand, analyse and decide which solutions fit best. Then, we have to try to mitigate the impact as far as possible.

Between 12 and 18 September 2016, the European network generated a total of 371,859 minutes of ATFM delay. Spread over the 223,142 flights that week, this represents 1.06 minutes of en-route delay per flight. Unfortunately, minutes of delay are not evenly spread over each flight, of course, so some flights had annoying delays. However the Network Manager has tools and procedures in place to deliver the best possible performance in the circumstances, despite daily minor hiccups and major bottlenecks.

The summer period, which lasts until the end of this month, saw sustained high levels of traffic demand on the South-West Axis (flows between the North of Europe towards the sunny destinations).

On Saturday, the Network Manager Operations Centre had to help with high demand and delays on the South-West Axis - weekends tend to be peak days in the summertime. Regulations were applied early in the morning in Bordeaux and Brest, as well as at airports in the Greek islands. Other regulations were put in place in both Karlsruhe and Poland due to staff shortages.

On Wednesday, a loss of back-up frequency forced Malmö to reduce capacity for about eight hours and on Thursday a network problem occurred at the Brussels ACC. NM worked closely with Belgocontrol to minimise the impact, coordinating measures with the surrounding ACCs, mainly the Maastricht UAC; this helped expedite the recovery phase by excluding flights from the regulations.

Midweek was also the start of a French national strike, which severely affected neighbouring ACCs and Maastricht in particular. NMOC held a teleconference with the DSNA and the airlines to analyse the possible impact and to discuss measures to take.

Bad weather was a daily issue but on Friday, London, Maastricht, Bordeaux, Paris, Geneva and Marseille were badly hit by CBs and the network registered 75,000 minutes of delay because of this factor. Nicosia added another 2,100 minutes of delay due to a system upgrade. And then it was Bremen and Langen’s turn to suffer from a staffing shortage.

To complete the picture, a late-notice military exercise in Marseille airspace forced the ACC to reduce its capacity and this created more delay than usual. Riga airport was closed for several hours due to an emergency landing and the Operations Centre helped them divert 19 flights to neighbouring airports.

Traffic is currently up by 2.4%, which represents an average of 651 more flights per day, compared to the same period in 2015. The growing traffic exacerbates the other issues, adding to the pressure. But the work done by the Network Manager and its partners helped make the situation a whole lot better than it would otherwise have been, as the Network Manager’s activities typically remove 10% of the overall delay!

Related news