By 2037, the busiest day is expected to see 55,000 flights.

The head of Eurocontrol has expressed concern at delays in Europe in 2018, which cost passengers and airlines an accumulative 19.1 million minutes.

At the Capacity of the Future session on air traffic management (ATM) at IATA’s AGM, Eamonn Brennan, Director General of Eurocontrol said a lack of staffing in key areas, especially Germany, strikes in France, and the rise in traffic all contributed to delays in Europe in 2018.

Tactical improvements, such as moving 1,100 flights a day away from Germany into Polish airspace, will help the 2019 situation.

Airlines pay $10 billion a year for ATM in Europe, but are they getting $10 billion in value?

But ultimately unless there is structural change, flights will go unaccommodated and delays will increase. There were 37,000 flights on the busiest day in Europe in 2018. By 2030, the busiest day will see 55,000 flights. Simply, European airspace will not handle the increase in demand without re-organization.

“Airlines pay $10 billion a year for ATM in Europe, but are they getting $10 billion in value?” asked Brennan.

The good news is that Brennan believes the solution is relatively simple. Integrated upper airspace controlled by a single network manager would solve many of the problems. “Borders exist in the air that don’t exist on the ground,” he said. 

Sovereignty need not be an issue and each of the 41 different ATM centers in Europe can still guide the aircraft down to the ground.

The bad news is that getting this change is proving difficult politically. And a lack of investment in ATM further complicates the issue.

And it will not only be airlines and passengers that suffer if structural change is ignored. The environment too will be hit by congested skies. Brennan noted that emissions are growing faster than the network capacity because too many flights are being forced to fly at lower levels for longer than necessary.

When asked what airlines could do to improve the situation, Brennan implored: “Help!”