Europe feels the strain as delays worsen

12 July 2018
Involvement from all stakeholders is necessary to reduce the growing problem of flight delays in European airspace (pictured is the Eurocontrol Network Manager Operations Centre). Source: Eurocontrol

The number of flights delayed by more than 15 minutes in European upper airspace continued to increase in the first half of 2018, continuing the trend of recent years, according to Eurocontrol. Airspace users experienced 1.05 minutes average delay, double the 2017 average, contributing to missed connections, higher costs, and passenger inconvenience.

Joe Sultana, Director of Network Management at Eurocontrol, said that daily flight volume exceeded 36,000 in late June. Speaking during the SES/SESAR Airspace Architecture Study workshop in Brussels on 5–6 July, he predicted that average delay will reach 1.35 minutes per flight in 2018. “Is this year a blip? Is it uncontrollable events? Or do we need a structural change in the system?” Sultana asked.

Europe experienced more weather-related disruption than usual in the first half of 2018, accounting for 27% of delays (compared with 23% in 2017), while a similar percentage was attributed to disruptive events such as industrial action (compared with 10% in 2017). For the fourth consecutive year, according to the Eurocontrol Performance Review Unit, the most significant share (45%) was caused by staffing/capacity issues.

Attendees at the Brussels workshop heard how the return of steady traffic growth – to above pre-recession levels – is putting pressure on area control centres, especially those responsible for managing traffic flow in core European airspace (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). Here, traffic growth is at the top end of the 2–4% forecast for Europe as a whole.

Involvement from all stakeholders is necessary to defragment European airspace management. In February 2018, the European Commission tasked the SESAR Joint Undertaking (with support from the Network Manager) to carry out a study into European airspace architecture, looking at medium- and long-term requirements to 2035. Commission director general for Mobility and Transport, Single European Sky (SES) Unit Maurizio Castelletti called for a vision to achieve a more integrated airspace at the workshop.

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