Due to the pandemic, FABEC air navigation service providers (ANSPs) handled less than 2.7 million en-route flights in 2020 compared with 6.2 million in 2019. In response to the unpredictable, fast-changing demand, FABEC ANSPs initiated a series of measures to ensure the skies remained open to support essential medical, cargo, military and repatriation flights. In this unprecedented context, ANSPs continued to deliver safe and efficient air traffic services – even during April when movements fell by 90% against 2019 to an all-time low of 52,526 flights.

Building resilience into the system has become a priority as ANSPs prepare for the return of traffic and for the demands of the current reporting period (RP3) which runs from 2020 to 2024. Revenue lost by European ANSPs during 2020 is estimated at 4.9 billion euros and FABEC ANSPs suffered more than half of the total loss, creating a financial crisis on top of the operational challenges. Emergency measures included cutting CAPEX costs by up to 25%, cancelling non-vital projects and furloughing staff.

Lower traffic volume was accompanied by improved environmental performance by FABEC ANSPs. Horizontal flight efficiency during 2020 exceeded 97% and approached the optimum possible. More direct routings for airspace users led to EUR 204 million savings in operational costs. Access to Free Route Airspace (FRA) also expanded over the year and airspace users gained access to FRA on many night and day networks. Benefits included a reduction in flight planning restrictions and the creation of several shorter flight-plannable route options. Simulations predict that, on the basis of pre-pandemic traffic, FRA in MUAC airspace alone will bring potential savings of 40 tonnes of fuel and 150 tonnes of CO2 per day, provided all flights make good use of FRA.

FABEC ANSPs also took advantage of lower traffic levels to introduce additional measures to boost efficiency and reduce gaseous emissions. ANSPs in Switzerland and Germany shortened routes over the Alps by 15 nautical miles in June 2020, saving flight time and reducing fuel consumption.

FABEC also launched the Cooperative Optimisation of Boundaries, Routes and Airspace (COBRA) project which will reduce complexity and provide more efficient traffic management by MUAC and DFS by replacing coordination between multiple sectors with bilateral handovers and the provision of new route options.