European controller costs to equal US in 2020

Air traffic controllers in Europe will not hit the productivity levels of their US counterparts for another six years, according to a new benchmarking study.

The Eurocontrol Performance Review Commission has published the report which compares air navigation services gate-to-gate cost-efficiency trends and underlying drivers between 2002 and 2011.

It shows that although the gap has narrowed, unit costs in the US were still around 34 per cent lower than in Europe in 2011 driven by considerably higher productivity and lower unit support costs.

While employment costs are broadly similar, the study indicates that controllers in the US work longer hours and work more flexibly, which allow changes in demand to be more easily accommodated.

The study indicates that if hourly productivity in Europe continues to increase at an annual five per cent as observed in between 2009 and 2011, Europe’s best performing providers would eventually close the gap by 2020 – assuming US hourly productivity did not change in the meantime.

Debates about the need for reform of the European air traffic management system often cite the fact that the cost of ATM in the US works out at roughly half.

Richard Deakin, the chief executive of British air traffc control NATS, however, argues that this misses the point in that while the cost may be half, the service provision also falls far short of European levels.

He cites figures that show that the US last year saw 4 ,400 air traffic safety incidents and 92 million minutes of delay resulting in $7.2 billion in direct additional costs to airlines. “Not something I suspect our customers in European airspace would like us to mirror,” Deakin told this year’s RAeS Brabazon lecture.

According to a second report, the US controls 59 per cent more flights operating under instrument flight rules with fewer controllers and facilities – 23 per cent fewer controllers, or 10 per cent less when “developmental” controllers in training are taken into account.

The reports can be found here.

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, News, Safety, Single European Sky

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