A new approach to managing air traffic in Europe

CANSO Director of European Affairs & Civil Air Navigation Services Tanja Grobotek explains.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

By Tanja Grobotek

03 Jun 2019

The role of air navigation services is to ensure that airspace users can fly from point A to point B safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively, using the optimal route and altitude and without delays.

This might seem simple enough but there are many challenges to overcome – growing air traffic, congestion in some areas, and too many EU Member States taking a national, rather than pan-European approach to air traffic management (ATM).

In 2018 traffic grew between three and thirteen percent in individual European countries. This presents a challenge to an industry where significantly increasing capacity can take a number of years, due to the long time needed to train air traffic controllers, and where the focus in recent years has been on reducing costs while maintaining high safety standards.


However, we are working with the European Commission, Network Manager, Member States and stakeholders, including airlines and airports, to improve airspace efficiency, increase capacity and reduce delays.

Measures include air traffic flow management, which regulates air traffic so available capacity is used effectively; and collaborative decision-making, where airlines, airports, and ATM share information to coordinate actions.

Air navigation service providers (ANSP) are also taking a more Europe-wide, rather than national, approach to managing traffic; and introducing ‘free route airspace’ which allows planes to fly the most optimal, carbon-efficient routes.

Technologies such as digitisation, automation and artificial intelligence also help improve efficiency and airspace capacity.

Since 2011, our members have invested over €6bn in new ATM infrastructure. But we also need the EU to play its part.

We strongly support the Single European Sky (SES) project. This is a Commission initiative to improve the way Europe’s airspace is managed, to modernise the airspace structure and develop new air traffic management technologies.

While ANSPs have made a lot of progress in improving performance since the project’s inception in 2004, fresh impetus is needed to realise the potential of the SES and meet future airspace capacity, safety and environmental needs.

"To achieve efficient, harmonised airspace across Europe we need to move from a predominantly national approach to ATM to a wider, regional, network-based approach"

To achieve efficient, harmonised airspace across Europe we need to move from a predominantly national approach to ATM to a wider, regional, network-based approach.

This means that optimising the network takes precedence over the requirements or preferences of any individual ANSP or airspace user.

It does not mean giving control to other entities but to operate as one rather than many.

Member States can be reassured that none of this is a threat to sovereignty as they can delegate service provision to a third party without losing any sovereignty rights.

The Commission and Member States can help by removing constraints to a truly pan-European approach to airspace management.

Specifically, this means ensuring the regulatory framework for managing airspace evolves in a way that encourages and supports greater network-focused behaviours.

The regulatory framework needs to enable new, interoperable technologies across Europe; and encourage early movers to deploy new technologies, increase automation, digitisation and virtualisation, leading to increased overall performance.

Member States can also help by facilitating adequate funding for ATM infrastructure expansion and modernisation and by implementing outcome-based regulation that encourages performance improvements.

This all requires a high degree of cooperation. With a busier than ever summer expected for air traffic, we believe that only a coordinated approach can create the step changes needed to successfully manage European airspace and deliver the biggest benefits.

With a new pan-European, cooperative mindset and the implementation of new technologies and procedures, together we can realise a safe, seamless and efficient European sky.

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