eNM measures – they helped, but let’s not take our eyes off the ball!

An abstract representation of the European ATM network

We must ensure the implementation of more structural measures.

When last autumn the data of the delays of summer 2018 were published, the European air traffic management (ATM) world suddenly realised that the issue of capacity had come back onto the top of the European ATM agenda.

Airlines were extremely concerned, and stakeholders immediately turned towards the EUROCONTROL Network Manager to cope with this issue. At first sight, the mission looked tricky for the EUROCONTROL NM, but then NM started to propose solutions that would prove effective and mitigate the capacity issue.

It was clear that despite significant traffic growth for many years, and with no abrupt boom, the European ATM operational network continued in 2019 to face structural capacity and scalability issues. To cope with this situation, the EUROCONTROL NM developed an Action Plan that addressed a variety of operational topics aimed at mitigating the serious capacity crunch. The 2019 Summer Action Plan was built on re-conducting a number of initiatives put in place in 2018. The significant difference in 2019 was that the gap between the expected capacity and traffic demand was even bigger than in 2018. As a result, the nature of the measures and their area of coverage had to be enlarged to cover almost the entire European ATM network, under the eNM/S19 (Enhanced NM/ANSPs Network Measures for Summer 2019) initiative.

The key approach adopted by the EUROCONTROL NM to face this situation was cooperation through collaborative decision-making. With the help of all stakeholders involved, NM launched a comprehensive and innovative approach, initially taking the form of about 180 network routing measures. This ensured a balanced distribution of traffic demand with the support of all operational actors in the network. The additional en-route air traffic flow management (ATFM) delay generated by air navigation service providers (ANSPs) which handled more traffic due to this initiative was reattributed through a transparent process put in place by NM with the full cooperation of all involved ANSPs. This allowed the implementation of an optimum solution at network level, minimising ATFM delay and ensuring a balanced approach to horizontal and vertical flight efficiency. 

The capacity and traffic developments, and the implementation of the eNM/S19 measures, were closely monitored from the very beginning. This resulted in the cancellation of about 30 restrictions, most of them in the area of our Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC).

During the summer season, in close cooperation with DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, other measures were cancelled to ensure a better distribution of traffic demand between the German ATC units, which are one of the bottlenecks of the network. At the end of the summer, further measures were cancelled to minimise the impact on airspace users.

One of the innovations introduced this summer was the weekly Summer Coordination Cell organised with ANSP and airspace user Directors of Ops. This considerably helped the effectiveness of the proposed measures. The contribution of ANSPs and airspace users to the success of the initiative was remarkable. The airspace users respected the measures while ensuring appropriate flight planning preparations, and secured a large number of standby aircraft to maintain punctuality of flights. Overall, the initiative helped mitigate approximately 20 million minutes of delay at network level for 2019, with delay levels expected to be approximately 15% lower than in 2018.

The environmental impact of the initiative was also a high priority and was monitored accordingly: had the eNM/s19 measures not been implemented, the additional CO2 emissions would have reached 8,800,000 tons, due to volatility in the route choices of airspace users, as already observed in 2018. The impact assessment made for the rerouted flights at the beginning of summer 2019 indicated additional emissions of about 108,900 tons of CO2 resulting from the eNM/s19 measures. The current initial estimation indicated additional CO2 emissions for flights rerouted by the eNM/s19 measures in the range of 15-20,000 tons of CO2 for the entire applicability period. This better result comes from the cancellation of a number of restrictions during summer 2019, which offered the opportunity to use shorter routes.

The improved performance of the network in 2019 was a success, but also a mitigation measure. Delays as a consequence of the capacity issue are a network problem that require an adequate network response. The EUROCONTROL NM is preparing an updated Action Plan for summer 2020 with a more adapted process. These preparations were initiated in mid-September 2019 with a ‘lessons learnt’ exercise. The ANSPs and airspace users which participated in the exercise indicated that summer 2019 was better, more stable and predictable, with a reduced number of rerouting interventions, and less volatility. At the same time, there was more time to react better to unforeseen situations, weather issues or other disruptions.

In preparation for summer 2020, a similar number of measures will be considered, but in an enhanced way with a more gradual implementation, more flexibility in the applicability of the measures and a better adaptation to particular airspace users’ needs.

However, this might not be enough. While mitigation measures will remain essential in the short term, we must ensure the implementation of more structural measures.

“The EUROCONTROL Network Manager has already started, with its operational stakeholders, on a vast programme addressing airspace restructuring and enhanced operational excellence. Such a programme will deliver a tangible increase in operational performance in the next five years, enabling scalability and increased capacity. Airspace restructuring and operational excellence will require robust cooperation and effective decision making among all stakeholders for the benefit of the European ATM network.”

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