In 2018, air traffic controller (ATCO) staffing issues, inclement weather, air traffic increases and a widespread lack of capacity in the network made for 25.6 million minutes of air traffic flow management (ATFM) delay.
2019 could be just as bad, as the overall network capacity is less than it was in 2018. At the end of March 2019, the overall ATFM delay recorded was 600,000 minutes more than was recorded in the same period in 2017.
The EUROCONTROL Network Manager (NM) has implemented a far-reaching delay mitigation plan, called e-NM/ANSP; it was developed and agreed with air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and airspace users.
eNM/ANSP aims at removing more than 1,000 flights/day from congested areas, either by rerouting them or by level-capping flights. This will entail an additional cost for airspace users as they will not be able to fly their preferred routes/vertical profiles - but it will be a sacrifice in a good cause: helping to control ATFM delay throughout the network.
Without the e-NM/ANSP plan, we could see 2019 with 30-35 million minutes of ATFM delay, as the gap between airspace/ATC capacity and traffic demand is so large that it cannot be overcome. The only other possible remedies would be total airspace reorganisation and wide-scale ATCO recruitment, neither of which is feasible in the immediate future.
We cannot solve all the problems all by ourselves. Traffic predictability is the conditio sine qua non for smooth operations.
So, we have sent our partners a list of best practices that, if followed, will lead to enhanced predictability and allow us to manage the network properly and reduce delay as far as possible.
We ask that these good practices be followed to enhance predictability, to keep the network stable and to avoid major queues when coordinating with the EUROCONTROL Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC).
Good practices that will help NMOC deliver more predictability and so more capacity in the system
NMOC asks dispatchers:
- not to submit duplicate flight plans; these will be detected and cancelled
- not to file “Yo Yo” flight plans as they make for congestion in the lower airspace
- to use the e-Helpdesk and avoid telephoning unless it is really urgent.
We ask pilots:
- to fly according to their Flight Plan unless they are prevented from doing so by ATC, bad weather or for a technical reason
- not to ask for direct routes (unless flying in Free Route Airspace) as the time volatility that this practice induces will compromise predictability.
En route air traffic controllers are requested to:
- avoid giving shortcuts unless essential as they make for congestion problems downstream
- keep to the vertical/geographical profile in the filed Flight Plan as far as possible.
Flow Management Positions should:
- use the e-Helpdesk for requests
- use the new Collaboration Human Machine Interface (CHMI) tool to detect volatility and to report discrepancies causing sector over-deliveries to NM’s post-operations team.
Airports are asked to use the Airport Corner for announcing any upcoming events: there is conclusive proof that doing this is highly useful for NM’s planning – especially when an airport’s capacity will be affected.
We believe that only by working all together can we make the difference between having continuous disruptions or an extremely busy but manageable summer; one in which all the daily planned flights safely reach their destination with a reasonable amount of - or even very little! - delay.