European Airport Coordinators Association (EUACA)
23 European states encompassing 180 airports
What are the priorities for EUACA going forward?
One of our key priorities is to achieve an even better cooperation between our members, because our association is voluntary we need to make sure our members are cooperating ever more closely so we can better tackle the issues facing our industry.
Secondly, we want to achieve as much as we can in terms of better regulation. The association welcomes the proposed revisions to slot allocation regulations in the European Commission’s ‘Better Airports’ package, not because in its present form it is not working, but because we believe there is always room for improvement and a lot of issues still need to be clarified.
Third, we are convinced our role in planning European network activity is not being adequately recognised. As a matter of fact, we cover 180 airports and we have a good idea what the airlines and aircraft operators are planning to fly from up to six months in advance until the day of operation, but at this stage, this is not being taken into account by the ATM.
They are basing their predictions of future traffic trends on the flight plans that have already been flown in the past. We are convinced there is an area for tremendous improvement. The ATM system should benefit more from our planning work of the activity of the “nodes of the network”, namely the airports and the actual operation should be as close as possible to the planned traffic.
Airport slot coordinators and schedules facilitators are planning the activity of the more congested airports and if everything goes smoothly what we have planned should be what is flown by the airlines and other operators.
How can air traffic controllers improve their future planning?
ATM’s have their own way of planning that comes from historic information, they take previous schedules and add some macroeconomic growth predictions in order to know what traffic to expect for say tomorrow or next week. What we are saying is that we have a system that is internationally recognised that is permanently collecting and updating flight intentions data from all operators at a specific airport, whether it is scheduled carriers, GA, cargo.
Our duty is then to add the filter of the airport capacity constraints to make sure the flight intentions are compatible with this capacity. This system is only used for those busy airports, which are declared coordinated or schedules facilitated.
Eurocontrol recently indicated that the flight intentions collected with this process by our members for 180 airports, mainly located in Western Europe already provides them with enough accurate data to anticipate 85% of the overall traffic in the entire ECAC region, and 95% of the traffic expected in Western Europe.
In order to further improve the accuracy of these flights predictions, we therefore support the EU Commission’s proposal to extent our data collection role to other non-congested airports (the so-called “Network Airports”), which nevertheless significantly contribute to the traffic in the network.
What is the European airport ‘capacity crunch’
An airport capacity crunch occurs when there is an imbalance between the available airport capacity and the demand. In the EU we don’t have many airports that are planning work at the moment to increase their capacity, be it runways or terminals, and this is running against the historic growth of traffic, although there is some respite as traffic is not growing as fast now due to the present economic conditions in Europe.
More and more airports in the EU are becoming congested and we know that environmental concern of the population is a very limiting factor in terms of the works that can be carried out to add more airport capacity.
How closely are you and your members involved in the SESAR project?
We are not involved that closely because we simply don’t have the resources. Within SESAR there are more than one hundred working groups operating on the various projects and we simply cannot contribute to them all because the association is limited to a few people from each member, but we do have a close links with Eurocontrol, which is deeply involved in the SESAR projects. As mentioned earlier we are already assisting in their planning process.
We have a unique database that is compiled from what airlines and other operators are sending to each of our members and this is made available to Eurocontrol so they have access, from one single source, to data from more than 180 airports across Europe.
Dynamic updates of this database using leading edge technology to feed our partners with our data is one of our possible contributions to the technological challenge of SESAR.
What will Europe’s skies look like in 30 years time?
I think that far from being out of work, coordinators will have a lot to do in the future as more and more airports are becoming congested we will need to coordinate more of them. In 30 years time I will be retired, but my successors will be working like hell to make the best use of scarce capacity. However, deciding what is the best use of capacity could change over the time. The new proposed regulation seems to be influenced very much by the case for the economic value of the airport capacity. Priority seems to go to the best economic use of capacity in the future, which is a very liberal approach. But this is clearly not for coordinators to comment.
In Eastern Europe it is a different picture; none of the Baltic States have any coordinated airports, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, have none, Bulgaria has only one, so obviously traffic there has not reached a level where they have important capacity problems.
But you will probably see a similar pattern occurring there as we have seen in Western Europe, I think as economic growth is now moving East towards Asia and the Middle East, those airports will grow and develop new routes.
How can airlines help airports and regulators to lessen the blow of a European airport capacity crunch?
I think that airlines need to share more information with their service providers. How can you expect an airport or an Air Navigation Service Provider to better plan their capacity if they don’t know what are the requests from the carriers as to when and where they want to go?
In the past, airlines could plan their schedules well ahead, now they tend to have to react quickly to changes in the market and that is why it is even more important now to synchronise our mutual information to give their partners a chance to also either react if possible or to inform the operators on their expected bottlenecks. I know this is a difficult issue for them because they feel they could lose flexibility, but if they share that information I think we would see a huge improvement.
This is now widely accepted when it comes to sharing information for the day of operation using the Collaborative Decision Process (CDM). Why not then also share information earlier in the process?
What do you think the European Commission’s ‘Better Airports’ package will achieve?
It is certainly great to have better airports, but it would be better to have more airport capacity. But this is not within the remit of the EU.
We nevertheless welcome the Commission’s proposed revisions to slot regulation in general, but clarifications and better wording in the text are needed in some cases. For example, we feel that the strengthening of the independence and transparency of slot coordinators is very good and we welcome it. But on the other hand, we have the feeling that since the coordinators will be more independent and transparent why do the regulators need to deal with very technical procedures on issues like determination of historic slots in a regulation? They should give the independent coordinators some guidance on these types of issues without going into too much detail.
We also welcome the new link with the Single Sky regulation, the comparison between flight plans and airport slots and the related sanctions. The network airport is of course something we strongly support for all the reasons explained earlier.
What we want too, is to have all the wording of the legislation correct before it becomes law because we are the ones who are going to be implementing it in the coming years and we need it to be as clear as possible in order to provide us with a more secure legal environment. Unfortunately we all know that to reach compromises regulators often fail to clarify too difficult or touchy issue.