Overview of 2016: the busiest year on record

3 February 2017

In 2016, the European skies were busier than ever: the network traffic reached an all-time record of 10,190,903 flights, with a daily average traffic of 27,844 flights, surpassing the former record set in 2008.

The network had its busiest day ever on 9 September with 34,594 flights. On the whole, the traffic growth in 2016 was 2.8% higher than it was in 2015, very close to the September 2015 forecast (2.7%). Strong growth in December 2016 (4.6%) helped achieve this level.

The current reporting period (RP2 - 2015-2019) is proving to be challenging for the network. The 2016 en route ATFM (Air Traffic Flow Management) delay was 0.86 minutes per flight, which is significantly above the 0.5 minute delay per flight SES delay target. Though en route weather and disruptions account for much of the increase of ATFM delay in 2016 compared with 2015 (0.73 minutes per flight), ATC capacity and staffing remain the primary reasons for missing the target.

It is worth noting that - thanks to the concerted efforts of the Network Manager and operational stakeholders - the total delay recorded was 34% less than in 2008, which had similar traffic levels (1.8 minutes per flight in 2008 compared with 2016’s 0.86 minutes per flight).

ATC industrial action was an issue throughout the whole year, causing over 1.2 million minutes of delay and more than 13,000 flights cancelled. It was responsible for the equivalent of 0.12 minute per flight (out of 0.86 minute/flight). The Network Manager (NM) undertook specific actions to manage this disruption.

Airport ATFM delays in 2016 decreased by 0.6%. Aerodrome capacity at both Istanbul airports and weather conditions remained the principal causes of airport delay. NM worked with Greek authorities to assist with the correct management of airport slots at island airports, so improving tourist operations over the summer months. Overall, NM delivered delay savings at all airports in line with the 5.7% objective.

As for special events, the EURO2016 football tournament was well prepared and coordinated and had minimal impact on operations. System implementations at Langen and London went well. The excellent network cooperation for Bordeaux’s ACC ERATO implementation at the end of the year provided a benchmark for future system implementations. Events accounted for 0.08 minutes of delay per flight.

While traffic has been increasing across Europe in general, tourist traffic flows shifted from south-east to south-west Europe as a result of political instability. During the 2016 summer holiday period, more people turned to destinations in Spain, Portugal, Greece and the Canary Islands. It is worth noting that the Canary Islands recorded a 14% increase in its local traffic growth rate during July-September 2016, while traffic in Turkey fell by 10% after a sharp decline in tourism.

In addition, aircraft operators also planned routes that minimised their exposure to relatively high-cost airspace through certain Area Control Centre (ACCs). The combination created additional pressure on areas that were already congested.

In terms of environment and flight efficiency, NM still proposes re-routing options to aircraft operators (AOs) on a daily basis. In 2016, this meant that NM saved AOs 107,168 nautical miles. However, strikes and the traffic flow disruption caused by the Ukraine crisis continue to affect the results with the flight efficiency (FPL) indicator trend being off track for the NM area.

More milestones

SWIM at airports

The use of NM’s B2B (business-to-business) web services is a new trend for airports; thanks to them, operational stakeholders are able to create direct interfaces with NM's operational systems and data, using SWIM (system-wide information management) supporting services.

Nice Côte d'Azur International Airport, France’s second-busiest airport, was the first to connect to the Network Manager by using SWIM interfaces for exchanging flight plan information and sending A-CDM departure information messages (DPI) to NM.


Air traffic control at Paris Charles de Gaulle was the first airport to use the new European separation standard for aircraft wake turbulence - developed by EUROCONTROL and called European Wake Vortex Re-categorisation (RECAT-EU) 24/7.

RECAT-EU received a formal endorsement of its safety case from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in October 2014.

EVAIR’s 10th anniversary

2016 was also the tenth anniversary of EVAIR, the first voluntary ATM incident data collection scheme organised on a pan-European level. The aim is to learn from low-level incidents and so help to prevent accidents and serious incidents.

ATM safety reports are sent by 130 to 160 different Air Operators yearly. All European ANSPs, plus those who are border on ECAC airspace, cooperate with EVAIR and participate by providing preliminary reports or delivering feedback on occurrences reported by the airlines’ Safety Managers. A total of 22,300 airline occurrence reports were collected, plus 22,200 reports from ANSPs.

Central Flow Management: 20 years of experience

April saw the closure of a series of events to celebrate the 20th anniversary of central flow management and the evolution of the Central Flow Management Unit into the Network Manager.

Today the Network Manager is determined to carry on building on this success; its vision for the next 20 years is based on a more structured airspace which allows free-routing above flight level 310 and accommodates organised traffic flows into/out of major terminal manoeuvring areas (TMAs) and airports. Flow management will move towards cooperative traffic management to optimise traffic delivery to sectors and airports.

Director Network Manager, Joe Sultana, received the Jane’s 2016 ATC Special Achievement Award at the WAC in Madrid.

EAD certification

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued the Approval Certificate to EUROCONTROL as a certified Air Navigation Service Provider for AIS. EUROCONTROL has become the first pan-European Aeronautical Information Service Provider to be certified under the Single European Sky legislation for the provision of the European Aeronautical Information Management Service (EAIMS).

5,244 students in IANS

Our Training Institute in Luxembourg (IANS) offers more than 186 different courses, which cover topics as diverse as Network Efficiency, Safety, Communication, Navigation, Surveillance, ATM Security, Human Performance, and, European ATM Legislation. In 2016, IANS was awarded the Regional Training Centre of Excellence label by ICAO’s TRAINAIR Plus programme.

In 2016, 5,244 participants attended 398 classroom courses while more than 50,000 hours of e-learning training were delivered via the EUROCONTROL Training Zone in 60,000 online sessions, with a satisfaction rate ranging from 85% (e-learning training courses) to 88% (classroom courses). In addition, 1,650 candidates were tested for aviation language proficiency worldwide with ELPAC and more than 8,500 applicants were tested for ATC aptitude with FEAST (First European Air Traffic Controller Selection Test).

ARTAS beyond European boundaries

ARTAS, the ATM Surveillance Tracker and Server, is EUROCONTROL’s surveillance data processing system, designed to produce and distribute a complete view of the air traffic situation at any one time. ARTAS has been implemented in most European countries and is responsible for tracking approximately 80% of Europe’s daily flights. In 2016, its use was extended beyond Europe via the ARTAS Distributor Licence Agreement (DLA).

First Hackathon

The first EUROCONTROL Hackathon, held in November, was a real success, bringing together 32 young and talented students from across Europe for an exhilarating three days of coding at the training Institute of Air Navigation Services (IANS) in Luxembourg. The goal was to make use of their out-of-the-box thinking to help create the world’s most innovative and efficient codec for ASTERIX (the All-purpose structured EUROCONTROL surveillance information exchange).

Take a look at our selection of articles covering major achievements, events or challenges for the European aviation network in 2016 in our Network Manager Timeline.