There are days when you hope a record won’t be broken

Prompt interventions by the EUROCONTROL Network Manager and air navigation service providers mitigate a bad situation, but Thursday 9 May still sees a record 307,433 minutes of delay.

Thursday, 9 May 2019 was an extremely challenging day for the European aviation network with 140 regulations applied across the network and 307,433 minutes of delay – quite possibly the highest level of delay in a single day, worse even than the worst day in summer 2018.

A French air traffic control (ATC) strike followed by all French area control centres (ACCs) made for very heavy regulations and accounted for 200,000 minutes of delay. Bordeaux ACC was the main delay generator in the morning; in the afternoon, Marseille and Brest were responsible.

As if this was not bad enough, another 43,000 minutes were added to the delay when drones had been spotted in the vicinity of Frankfurt airport early in the morning, forcing operations to a complete standstill and obliging aircraft to hold for about an hour. A quick recovery was made, thanks to increased coordination with adjacent flow management positions (FMPs) and the use of airports with diversion capabilities, but delays did continue for a while.

Fortunately, the EUROCONTROL Network Manager’s dedicated team went into top gear, with the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) opening all flow positions to give maximum support to flight operations. Despite the eHelpdesk going down for a short period in the early morning owing to a massive number of requests, NMOC was able to swiftly deal with very high demand in a balanced way, working hard with Air Navigation Service Providers across the network, who were quick to apply mitigation measures. For their part airlines cancelled some heavily delayed flights, a fact which prevented delays from reaching the ceiling of 1.4 million minutes of delay which we had initially expected. And at least there was one ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark day for the network: the weather remained good across the network for once.

So, although things were bad for air traffic on the delay record-breaking day of 9 May 2019, it all could have been a lot worse, thanks to professional collaboration!

9 May 2019 in figures

  • ATC capacity ACC + ATC staffing actual delays: 43,000 + 8,900
  • Aerodrome ATC capacity + ATC staffing actual delays: 3,500
  • Weather actual delays: 13,490
  • Total Network ATFM Delay: 307,433 minutes
  • Total number of flights: 30,071
  • Average delay per flight (minutes per flight):14.4