Predictability in a volatile system

In 2017 air traffic controllers managed 5.99 million flights (+3.4 percent) safely and punctually through FABEC airspace. In terms of traffic volume this was an all-time high, topping the previous peak reached in 2016. The number of arrivals at the 83 airports within the FABEC area grew by 1.9 percent in 2017 over 2016. This was the fourth consecutive year of an overarching positive trend in the aviation market.

Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt are now the busiest airports, in terms of aircraft movements, in Europe. For the first time London Heathrow – which is not part of FABEC – has been overtaken by the three continental hubs located in the FABEC area.  When traffic at Munich airport is taken into account FABEC is now home to four of the five busiest airports within the Single European Sky area. On average, landings at airports in the FABEC area grew by 1.9 percent in 2017 to 2.589 million (2016: 2.540 million).

Volatility a new phenomenon is limiting airspace availability. In some areas – for example, in the Brussels sectors controlled by EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) or other sectors within the German upper airspace controlled by DFS’s Karlsruhe control centre – the available capacity to cope with additional traffic has either gone or is close to the limit.

When sectors are operating close to their capacity even small changes can lead to overloads which will require corrective measures such as rejections of flight plans. Some traffic forecasts have been widely inaccurate and the capacity levels planned have not matched the capacity levels required – especially in terms of staffing levels. To avoid overload situations FABEC ANSPs have put in place several measures such as alternative routings and flow management procedures to distribute traffic horizontally and vertically beneath the control units. But this means airspace users might not be able to fly their individually preferred routes.