Cash-strapped Europe should scale up on SESAR deployment

The new Eurocontrol chief wants a much more centralised approach to the rollout of technologies underpinning future air traffic control – either at regional or central level – in a bid to reduce duplication, save money and improve operational efficiency.

Frank Brenner, who became Eurocontrol’s director general in January, is calling for greater collaboration among air navigation service providers (ANSP) in implementing Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) modernisation efforts.

Speaking at the World ATM Congress in Madrid, Brenner said lacklustre growth in regional air traffic over the medium term will prevent ANSPs investing in advanced SESAR technologies.

That combined with a reluctance by European Union countries to reorganise their airspace into nine optimised airspace regions – termed functional airspace blocks (FABs) – under Single European Sky rules means major operational benefits risk failing to be delivered on schedule.

“Perhaps there is the possibility of saving money by looking at solutions on the level of the nine functional airspace blocks in Europe or even at a pan-European level rather than at a national or local level,” he said.

He said Europe therefore needed to look seriously at how it could derive the greatest impact on limited budgets.

“One way we can invest more efficiently is to see if we can reduce or even eliminate unnecessary duplication as part of the deployment. Europe operates a lot of control centres and, at present, these centres have their own individual equipment sitting in their basements.

“As a result, ANSPs in Europe have to plan investments of about €1 billion per year. So if we continue to do business as normal, we deploy the 300 or so SESAR innovative ideas in Europe in about 80 centres. Initial calculations show that the investment budgets foreseen do not support that. So either we increase the budgets, which is not really possible under the economic regulation, or we drop projects – which would be a shame,” said Brenner.

He said that early studies by Eurocontrol indicated that there are around 30 per cent of SESAR projects whose deployment would make sense at FAB level rather than national level.

“There are also about 10 projects that could be – I think should be – implemented at the network level. Typically these candidates to become centralised services are those involving data – for example flight plan data, 4D trajectory calculations or aeronautical information,” he said, noting that initial estimates could generate saving of between €150 to €200 million per year.

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