At the beginning of this century, the ATM system in Europe began to move to a more performance-orientated approach. This began with a ‘light-touch’ approach established by EUROCONTROL and the Performance Review Commission and then formed the core of the EU Single European Performance Scheme.
Traffic has grown substantially over the period to 2019, particularly in Eastern Europe, with traffic dispersed across many more airport pairs and away from congested hub airports. The low cost sector, in particular, has rapidly increased in significance. The ATM system remains fragmented despite the formation of Functional Airspace Blocks and there has been limited consolidation of ACCs. The number of controllers has grown, albeit not as fast as traffic and unit costs have decreased significantly.
Free Route Airspace has now been fully or partly implemented in most parts of Europe, with substantial operational and economic benefits. Also, the network function has been strengthened with the creation of a Network Manager, taking a more proactive role in ATFM; the benefits of a centrally managed network were clearly visible during the capacity crisis in 2018/19 – and also during the pandemic.
However, overall ATM performance improvements have been below anticipated levels with European targets almost never achieved – partly due to shortcomings in a limited number of air navigation service providers.