The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on July 18, 2018, called on the governments and air navigation service providers of Europe to address the region's airspace bottlenecks, as new data revealed that delays so far this year have more than doubled compared to 2017.  

"We are in the summer season in Europe. Travelers want to get to their holidays on time. And too many will be disappointed because of air traffic delays. We should be making progress, but delays are double those of last year,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.

Data from The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) shows that in the first half of 2018, Air Traffic Management (ATM) delays more than doubled to 47,000 minutes per day, 133% more than in the same period last year.

Most of these delays are caused by staffing and capacity shortages as well as other causes such as weather delays and disruptive events such as strikes. The average delay for flights delayed by air traffic control limitations reached 20 minutes in July, with the longest delay reaching 337 minutes.

"The impact of ATC delays ripple throughout the economy. At a time when Europe's competitiveness urgently needs to be improved, increasing ATM delays is totally unacceptable. Travelers are fed-up. Change must start now," said de Juniac.

Staffing and Infrastructure Investment

As airlines add flights to new destinations and expand their offer to meet the expectations of travelers, air traffic in Europe is on the rise, creating greater demands on the continent's airspace.

Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) manage each State's airspace and charge overflight fees for the services they provide. Since flight numbers have increased, so has their revenue. Eurocontrol calculates that European ANSPs have made an average 9.6% EBIT in recent years.

Unfortunately, key ANSPs in Europe have not made needed investments in their businesses, preferring instead to make super-normal profits, IATA observes.

The largest service providers have either under-invested in staff or use outdated employment practices which don't deploy staff when and where they're most needed, resulting in unnecessary delays for passengers. Many European ANSPs have also failed to make planned technology investments intended to increase capacity. 

Hence, IATA has called on the European Commission, European Union (EU) member states and ANSPs to “take urgent action” with a so-called “four-point plan”. It includes, primarily, the need to modernize the infrastructure and implement the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), something airlines are already paying for.

IATA is urging European airlines to reform their outdated work practices so that staff are deployed when they are required; and, where justified, to recruit additional staff. At the same time, the organization advocates for the empowerment of the European Network Manager to plan and configure the network to meet the demands of air travelers.

Another major point - strengthening the Performance and Charging Scheme so that ANSPs not delivering agreed capacity are subject to meaningful penalties. 

"There is no quick fix for this year. But the needed solutions are well-known. With the correct investment and planning by governments and ANSPs we can, and must, make next year better," noted IATA’s chief.