GATCO has attended the 2018 International Federation of Air Traffic Control Associations’ (IFATCA) European Regional Meeting (ERM) from the 10th to the 12th October in Dublin, Ireland. GATCO was represented by President, Luis Barbero; Vice President Policy, Jez Pigden; Manager Technical and Operations, Adam Exley and Ryan Warwick, GATCO Rep.

While European ATC has handled record traffic during the year, delays have increased and the prospects for 2019 do not indicate that there will be any improvement. Following the IFATCA lead of not looking to apportion blame and ‘point fingers’ the ERM focused on solutions to the problems and challenges faced by the network.

Two areas are key: ATC capacity, which needs to be increased, and the use of that capacity which is significantly hindered by a European-wide shortage of air traffic controllers.

The meeting concentrated on two themes in its presentations and panel discussions. Improving the predictability of the European ATM system combined with capacity improvements and the challenges of the Single European Sky and possible solutions. IFATCA believes that SESAR solutions will help, but technical solutions will not be enough. Additional initiatives and innovative solutions are needed but these will only be forthcoming in an environment of mutual understanding, trust and collaboration through dialogue.

It is clear that in its Reference Period 2 (RP2), the European Commission set unrealistic targets based on cost reductions. With the traffic downturn, airlines pressured ANSPs to reduce costs and one of the ANSPs responses was to cut training and recruitment. Now, with increasing traffic, airlines are able to respond quickly to passenger demand but ANSPs need a far greater time to train controllers. In addition, the ability of ANSPs to recruit is becoming increasingly difficult with younger generations looking, in part, for more flexible employment than ANSPs can currently provide.

However, it also needs to be recognised that the issues are not just ATC related. Airport capacity is a problem and airlines have not only operational issues to consider but may, in the future, despite the deregulation of European routes, need to understand that some city pairs, at certain times, are simply full.

Solutions to the issues need to be innovative and, perhaps, bold. An airline routeing on a cheaper route rather than, in ATC terms, a more efficient route calls into question the entire charging system while ANSPs who impose ATC regulations to meet their own targets, but cause additional problems in other areas of the network, indicates that the RP2 system of targets needs revising. Providing solutions and improving the network can only happen with greater collaboration with all the parties talking and discussing the issues.

The ERM meeting went on to outline several of the key papers which members are working on for presentation at the IFATCA Annual Conference in 2019. Finally, the closed session always highlights issues faced by controllers at the ‘coal face’ and this session was no exception. Several members associations reported issues around Just Culture. One controller has a case pending in the European Court of Human Rights and several from another country are facing action which could include fines or prison sentences for events that occurred as far back as 2012.

The 2019 IFATCA ERM will be held in Aqaba in Jordan.