Not the end of the world: 2012 in review

7 January 2013

The end of the Mayan calendar may not have been the end of the world, but now that we are safely on the right side of 2012, what better time to reflect on the significant happenings in Air Traffic Management (ATM) over the last 12 months?As we take a look back over the main ATM events of 2012, the challenges and milestones demonstrate the importance of effective coordination in the name of continuous improvement in airspace management.

Old milestones and new for European airspace

At the very start of 2012, the Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) programme celebrated the 10th anniversary of its implementation. This was arguably the most important ATM project Europe has ever seen. It increased capacity in the airspace of 41 states and made for huge savings for aircraft operators. The legacy of this significant step forward in Europe-wide airspace management continues to be felt today, as it paved the way to the creation of the role of ATM Network Manager.

This was not the only milestone for 2012, however, as EUROCONTROL's Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC), which provides cross-border air traffic control to over 5,000 flights on its busiest days, celebrated its 40th anniversary, making it a model for the Single European Sky. In May 2012, MUAC also controlled its 5 millionth flight using its trajectory-based flight data processing system (FDPS).

As it turns out, May had more in store for us. Further progress in managing European airspace more effectively was made as London Heathrow became the fifth airport in Europe to implement Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM). Through a network of automatic data exchanges, A-CDM reduces delays by integrating airports into the European ATM network.

Increased traffic as sports fans flood to Europe

Many records were broken in summer 2012, particularly in relation to the EURO 2012 tournament and the London Summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Poland and Ukraine  recorded unprecedented levels of traffic this June, providing a unique challenge for the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) to ensure that air traffic management ran smoothly.

Similar levels of careful attention were called for in managing the arrival of athletes, fans and journalists in London. Thanks to the simulations and scenarios which were run in advance of both of these events, travellers enjoyed minimal delays and the benefits of smooth coordination across the European airspace. Our congratulations to colleagues in UK NATS for their superb planning and organisation!

Moving forward

Coordination and collaboration have been at the heart of many of 2012’s major changes and challenges. One of the most significant changes for ATM was the switchover to the ICAO Flight Plan 2012 in November. The successful migration to the new format will go a long way in ensuring that the NM is equipped to deal with evolving requirements of ATM systems. Improving the way that the European airspace is managed allows us to keep up to speed with new challenges, but it also underpins the way we deal with less singular problems on a more regular basis.

The Network Manager was faced with industrial action at various points in Europe throughout 2012. Helped by the support given by its partners and effective information sharing, the Network Manager was able to minimise disruption to the air traffic management network to an appreciable extent.

Industrial action was uniquely paired with severe weather conditions in October, with Hurricane Sandy causing a reduction of an estimated 1,000 Europe-North Atlantic flights, but, luckily, with no effect on delays in Europe. Indeed, delays in October 2012 went on record as being below the rolling 12-month average.

With milestones, technological advancements and challenges to air traffic regularity, 2012 was a busy year for aviation. As it appears that the world is going to be here for some time yet, let’s see what 2013 has to offer.

Related news