A lot more traffic in 2017 and not as much delay as you might expect

14 August 2018

2017 was expected to see strong traffic growth in the European network and this assumption was borne out. 2017’s traffic sustained the biggest annual increase in a decade (+4.4% compared to 2016), registering another all-time record for en-route traffic. The EUROCONTROL Network Manager (NM) knew it could only be accommodated through better capacity planning in collaboration with ACCs (Air Traffic Control Centres).

Reality hit on Friday, 30 June, when 35,937 flights operated in the European network: this is over a thousand flights more than 2016’s busiest day. On average, an aircraft took off or entered the network every 2.4 seconds on that day. 

In July, for the first time ever, NM handled one million flights in a single month in the European network, which ranges from Ireland to Armenia and from Morocco to Finland. 

Despite these records, en-route ATFM (Air Traffic Flow Management) delays registered only a slight increase of 2% over the ones recorded in 2016: from 0.86 minutes/flight to 0.88 minutes/flight. However, this score was still above the target of 0.5 minutes/flight.  

Throughout the year, priority was given to creating network solutions for an efficient network. 

NM continued to evolve to meet the challenging objectives set out in the Network Performance Plan. Key to this improvement is the continuous implementation of Free Route Airspace in European airspace. The programme has already made for reduced fuel consumption and emissions, as well as improving flight efficiency while absorbing inefficiencies caused by crises (e.g. in Ukraine, the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean) and capacity gaps due to industrial action. With a revised framework, NM’s support to airlines to improve flight planning delivered savings of more than 77,000 nautical miles in 2017.

Institutionally, further effort was made so that NM could deliver its operational functions in an impartial manner throughout the entire NM area as a service provider of general interest to the Single European Sky (SES).

A revision of the regulatory framework governing the Network Manager was begun by the European Commission, through the deliberations of the Single Sky Committee which oversaw pending amendments to the NM Regulation and the Performance and Charging Regulations.

Updates to the NM Regulation were founded on experience gained so far; proposed improvements in the scope of the NM functions and tasks were put forward in these areas:

  • Adjusted processes for the Network Operations Plan (NOP);
  • Pan-European dimension and participation of third countries; 
  • Cooperative decision-making; 
  • Network crisis management.

Looking further ahead, traffic forecasts for 2018 and beyond are showing an upward trend with differing rates of growth across the European states. Whether this is a result of economic growth, growth in tourism or changes in route choice due to restricted airspace, these rates of growth will have an impact on the performance of the European ATM network. The Network Manager is, more than ever, committed to delivering its operational functions in an impartial manner across the entire NM area as a service provider of general interest to SES.