Europe’s crowded skies face capacity crunch

Europe’s crowded skies face “serious capacity challenges” according to a new report by Eurocontrol, the organisation for the safety of air navigation in Europe.
The Challenges of Growth study finds that without urgent action, the network will be unable to cope with the demand for flights predicted by 2040.
Eamonn Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol, told an industry conference in Brussels 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.
He added that 28% of this delay was attributed to disruptive events (such as strikes) and 27% to weather. However, 55% was attributed to staffing/capacity issues, notably in Germany, France and the Low Countries.
The Eurocontrol study comes as plans to ease the freighter aircraft slot capacity crisis at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport were rejected by the government minster for infrastructure and water management, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen.
The ‘local rule’ proposal would have allowed freighter operators to have access to a percentage unused aircraft slots at Europe’s third largest cargo hub by volumes.
However, the Netherlands government rejected the plan, fearing that it would see Amsterdam exceed its annual 500,000 aircraft slot allocation, although the industry has the chance to adjust its proposal and re-submit it to the transport minister.
Eurocontrol’s new study focuses on passenger aircraft movements, with a short reference to potential cargo drones. However, a slot capacity crunch – heightened by the surge in low cost carriers – looks set to impact freighter operations at Europe’s major hubs.
Brennan stated “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. This kind of report is crucial for policy makers as they prepare for the future.
“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.”
The most likely scenario set out in the report (1.9% growth/year) shows an increase of 53% in flights by 2040, to 16.2m a year. However, there are “significant upside risks for this forecast” and it may well be that the increase is as high as 84%
Four countries will each see more than three thousand additional flights per day (the UK, Turkey, France and Germany). Even though airports are expanding their capacity plans, with the top 20 airports planning to add 2.4m runway movements, this will not be enough states the study.
Many airports will become much busier, with higher delays. The study estimates that by 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested operating at close to capacity for much of the day (up from six airports today).
As a result of this congestion the number of passengers delayed by one to two hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.
Aside from building additional runways, the study looks at how airport capacity can be delivered through other means. These include technology innovation, schedule smoothing, using larger aircraft and multi-modal approaches.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, told the same audience in Brussels: “As we stand, the lack of airport capacity will result in €88.1bn in foregone economic activity in Europe by 2040, due to unmet demand for air travel and reduced air connectivity.” 
ACI Europe represents over 500 airports in 45 European countries. Their members facilitate over 90% of commercial air traffic in Europe: 2bn passengers, 20m tonnes of freight and 23.7m aircraft movements in 2016.

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