Raising the bar

This covers
Raúl Medina

EUROCONTROL is in its 60th anniversary year – 60 years of European countries working together to improve aviation – and I am very pleased that this edition of Skyway really demonstrates that ideal.

We have a very wide range of contributors, including Adina Vălean, the European Commissioner for Transport, who has provided her thoughts on the way ahead for the European aviation sector.

This is especially relevant now as the industry emerges from the impact of the pandemic – but is still affected by the horror of war in Europe. We stand in full solidarity with our Member State, Ukraine, and we are committed to help the country as well as its neighbours impacted by the Russian war of aggression. Indeed, my first official visit as DG was to Ukraine, to discuss in more detail the Solidarity Fund – which was voted by our Member States at the end of 2022, and which is intended to ensure operational readiness when air traffic recovers.

Several of the contributors in this edition identify Capacity and Decarbonisation as the two major challenges currently facing ATM in Europe. And while we should not ignore modernisation, cost-effectiveness and, of course, safety, I agree. 2018 and 2019 saw huge flow management delays in Europe and, while they largely vanished during the pandemic, the summer of 2022 again saw significant ATM delays on top of the extensive delays experienced as a result of problems on the ground – for example with security, baggage handling and crew availability.

For summer 2023 we hope and expect that many of these ground-based issues will have been resolved. But, with another million flights forecast for this year, the pressure on the ATM system to perform will be intense. The EUROCONTROL Network Manager is working very hard with airlines, airports and ANSPs across Europe to minimise delays, but it does seem that it will be an especially challenging summer season.

Moreover, some of the measures set out in our "Prepared for summer 2023" plan will mean longer routes to avoid congestion, which will have a negative effect on sustainability. So it is clear that we need to address both capacity and sustainability at the same time. Sustainability (which is wider than just decarbonisation) is a major priority, and rightly so.

There is much that is being done and can be done – for example on the introduction of Free Route Airspace and the move towards better vertical profiles – but these actions will not help if there is insufficient capacity in key parts of European airspace. We need to strengthen the system as a whole and work towards being able to handle not just the 11 million flights we saw in 2019, but also the 16 million predicted for 2050. These flights need to operate as efficiently as possible, both for cost reasons and also to help the move towards NetZero.

That means a paradigm shift in ATM, embracing digitalisation, sharing real-time data and taking European aviation to another level. I am committed to making sure that we at EUROCONTROL do all we can to help drive this, working with our partners. Here the move of the SESAR3 Joint Undertaking (S3JU) and the SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM) to our Brussels headquarters will facilitate and strengthen the cooperation between all of us. We are also developing further our Innovation Hub and modernising the Network Manager and its systems.

Several of the articles in this edition address these key themes, as well as looking at the need for resilience and flexibility at this time of major changes. Particularly relevant and welcome is an article from Brigadier General Pliet of NATO on what the invasion of Ukraine means for military aviation in Europe; we are all working to make sure that the needs of both military and civil aviation can be met.

I am proud to be Director General of EUROCONTROL – an Agency and an Organisation that has done so much over the last 60 years to unite European aviation. Our focus must be to build on that success and to look to the future. I am convinced that if we work together, we will definitely raise the bar.

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