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Eurocontrol highlights future capacity gap


EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, has released a report pointing to a growing gap between demand for air travel and airport capacity.

During a presentation at the ACI General Assembly, EUROCONTROL’s director general Eamonn Brennan explained that the first five months of 2018 have seen much higher delays than in recent years.  Traffic has increased by 3.4% (compared to the same period in 2017) but en-route Air Traffic Flow Management delays have risen dramatically from 0.46 minutes per flight to 1.05 minutes per flight.  Of this delay, 28% was attributed to disruptive events such as strikes and 27% to weather.  However, 45% was attributed to staffing/capacity issues, notably in Germany, France and the Low Countries.

He continued: “Europe is already struggling to cope with the levels of traffic this year.  Our most likely scenario predicts a growth of 1.9% a year between now and 2040.  That means 16.2m flights a year.  But it could be as much as 19.5m flights a year under our highest growth scenario.  On our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5m flights or 160m passengers in 2040.”

The study points to airports becoming much busier, with greater delays.  It estimates that by 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested and operating at close to capacity for much of the day – up from six today.  As a result the number of passengers delayed by between one to two hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.  Four countries will each see more than 3,000 additional flights per day (the United Kingdom, Turkey, France and Germany).  And even though airports are expanding their capacity, with the top 20 airports planning to add 2.4m runway movements, that will not be enough.  In the most likely scenario, 1.5m flights – 160m passengers, or 8% of the total demand – will be unable to fly by 2040.

EUROCONTROL envisages three significant changes by 2040:

  • Delivering current airport capacity plans is already a challenge, but they will fall 1.5m flights short of demand.  More capacity is needed at airports in 17 different European States.
  • Even with 1.5m flights lost to the capacity gap, a typical Summer day in 2040 will have 16 airports as congested as Heathrow is now.  That will push total network delays to an average of 20 minutes per flight.
  • Climate change will damage aviation infrastructure, alter patterns of passenger demand, and lead to more disruption of daily operations.  The industry recognises the need for adaptation, but only half of organisations have begun to plan.

The report also looks at means of addressing the problem.  Aside from building additional runways, it suggests that the capacity gap can be mitigated by technology innovation such as SESAR (the Single European Sky ATM Research programme), schedule smoothing, using larger aircraft and multi-modal transport.

Brennan concluded: “Clearly this is a long-term forecast so we do have time to address the issues it raises but providing more capacity, and especially on this scale, requires long-term planning. Therefore I think we need to address the issue as a matter of urgency.”

Download the full report here.

Image: EUROCONTROL has highlighted a gap between demand and capacity, which is likely to increase delays and restrict access to air travel.  (EUROCONTROL)

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