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ENAIRE boosts resilience in European air traffic management

ENAIRE boosts resilience in European air traffic management

The Spanish Air Navigation Service Provider is helping the aviation sector to be part of the solution to Europe's current environmental problems, writes Chief Executive Officer Ángel Luis Arias.

The aviation sector has been severely affected since 2020 first by the drastic reduction in the number of flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic and second by the effects of the war in Ukraine.

The figures point to more than two years of serious setbacks. In 2020, ENAIRE managed a little over 851,000 flights, barely equivalent to 40% of the traffic it had managed a year earlier. In 2021, the number of flights handled by ENAIRE exceeded 1.2 million, which was equivalent to 55% of the flights reported in 2019, a record year. However, EUROCONTROL's statistics showing a bounce-back in air traffic, and the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, gave us reason to be moderately optimistic in the final months of last year and the first months of this one, at a time when ENAIRE, together with other air navigation operators, paved the way for the emerging recovery of the sector in Europe.

The destabilisation resulting from the escalating conflict in Ukraine has again called this recovery into question, a recovery that just a few months ago seemed to have settled on a clearly upward trend. We have been reading and listening to analyses of all kinds over the last few months regarding the consequences that this disastrous conflict might have on a sector as important for aviation as tourism, and thus on this summer's campaign.

"The destabilisation resulting from the escalating conflict in Ukraine has again called this recovery into question"

The war in Ukraine has caused an energy crisis and skyrocketing inflation in Europe that is affecting every production sector, situations to which the aviation sector has to respond with determination, boldness and a spirit of international cooperation.

Firstly, because capitulating or doing nothing can never be an option. And secondly, because we all got a lesson in resilience as a result of the paralysed economy and mobility during the disastrous year that was 2020. We are all committed to the hope that aviation will continue to be a driver of economic and social growth and development.

ENAIRE is keenly aware of the lessons learned over the past two years, lessons it has been able to incorporate into its strategic plan to face this moment of global economic crisis and geopolitical tension.

ENAIRE's commitment to the recovery of the aviation sector is present across the board in its strategic plan 2021-2025 (called "Flight Plan 2025"), which includes the operational, technical, human resources, investment and strategic measures needed to reaffirm, and even try to improve, our leadership position as an Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) at a time of crisis and structural changes.

Flight Plan 2025 was designed to ensure an improvement in the organisation's efficiency, productivity and flexibility, with the aim of providing a better service to its customers, being more competitive and contributing to the recovery of the aviation sector, boosting ENAIRE's internationalisation and contributing to sustainable air mobility with more efficient routes and the flexible use of airspace to prevent the emission of 185,000 tonnes of CO2 in five years. The roadmap is fully consistent with the 2030 Safe, Sustainable and Connected Mobility Strategy of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and the Urban Agenda, and with the Government of Spain's Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan.

Flight Plan 2025 includes three highly relevant needs among providers of air traffic management services: respond to the structural changes that European ATM is facing; having an air traffic management (ATM) system that is more scalable, and thus better adaptable to traffic demand, and being more resilient by procuring mechanisms that can provide a fast and effective response in extraordinary situations.

In this regard, by the summer 2021 season ENAIRE implemented an Air Navigation Services Recovery Plan that focused on setting up measures to ensure the health and continued proficiency of its air traffic controllers, the goal being to continue providing improved services with the highest continuity and quality guarantees. This plan allowed ENAIRE to successfully resume its air traffic control services gradually, in response to demand, yielding the safety and efficiency reflected in EUROCONTROL's statistics on air traffic trends, which always showed Spain at or near the top.

For this summer and next, as well as for the next two winter seasons – which are crucial for the Canary Islands – ENAIRE also has an ambitious action plan involving technical, operational and airspace restructuring projects, the "2022-2023 Summer Plan", which was developed in collaboration with air carriers and associations. It contains the national and international technical, operational and human resources measures needed to achieve the best possible safety, efficiency, service quality and sustainability ratings.

"ENAIRE also has an ambitious action plan involving technical, operational and airspace restructuring projects, the 2022-2023 Summer Plan"

This plan also considers the implementation of unrestricted routes so that airlines can fly on optimised, phased trajectories in 2022 and 2023-2024; new tools for flow control and dynamic airspace sectors, and improvements in the arrival and departure procedures at airports and terminal control areas of the main airports in the Aena network. Examples of this include the implementation of parallel independent runway approaches at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport and improvements to the approach and departure procedures at the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport.

ENAIRE has also made upgrades to the air traffic management system, SATCA (Automated System of Air Traffic Control / Sistema Automatizado de Control de Tránsito Aéreo), both in centres and control towers, and has implemented contingency measures, in an effort to be more competitive and effective in carrying out its duties as Spain's national ANSP.

Of note in the area of improving competitiveness and contributing to the recovery of the sector is its strategy for reducing air navigation fees, as well as a firm commitment to invest over EUR 737 million from 2021 to 2025. The scale of this investment will allow ENAIRE to continue promoting innovation projects such as Startical (together with Indra), which seeks to deploy a network of over 200 small satellites to provide satellite-based ADS-B surveillance services and VHF voice and data communications on a global scale; or to promote urban air mobility by developing the U-space platform for the automated and digital management of drone traffic. ENAIRE is ready to roll out this system for the automated management of drone operations beyond visual line of sight in airspace volumes called "U-Space airspace"; and specifically, for the centralised management of CIS (Common Information Services), which are essential to safely support drone operations once the new European Regulation enters into force in January 2023.

At times like these, it is crucial to keep pushing for a policy of international cooperation so that we can face the future with confidence. ENAIRE currently holds the rotating presidency of the Steering Board (CEOs) of the A6 Alliance, from which it will be able to assert its commitment to the recovery of the aviation sector and advance the development of the SESAR programme (the technological component of the Single European Digital Sky initiative), along with other European leading ANSPs.

Similarly, ENAIRE's activities at European level, both in terms of its day-to-day operations and its future planning, are taking on increased importance. Those carried out since the presidency of the Group of Operations Directors of EUROCONTROL, the Working Group with France led by ENAIRE with EUROCONTROL and DSNA, the French ANSP, and the Spain/Portugal Functional Airspace Block are good proof of this strategic commitment to international cooperation.

The future is uncertain in a Europe that, after facing down an unknown virus, must now overcome an economic crisis and a moment of geopolitical instability as the result of a war being waged just beyond its borders. ENAIRE is determined to help the aviation sector continue to be part of the solution to Europe's current problems.

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