GATCO and IFATCA have published a joint letter in response to the article “A Holding Pattern” in The Economist magazine. That article has also been published on The Economist website with the title “Losing Control – Air Traffic Control is a Mess”. You can read the article of The Economist here.

While GATCO and IFATCA accept that the article paints a mostly accurate picture of the ATM situation around the world in terms of staff/capacity shortages and delays, the root causes are largely missing in The Economist article and an unreasonable level of blame is put on the air traffic controllers for the current situation. An opportunity has been missed by the investigate journalism required to produce this article to talk to all the stakeholders, contrast the different points of view and present a balanced overview of the situation.

In particular, GATCO and IFATCA have made the following remarks in their letter:

  • In the European context, The Economist article implies that air traffic controllers oppose to the Single European Sky (SES), based on their opposition to setting performance targets for the industry. Unfortunately, the article is mixing two independent issues. GATCO, IFATCA and other ATC professional organisations have been advocating for the implementation of the SES since its inception 19 years ago. There is written evidence to that end on the GATCO and IFATCA websites.
  • What air traffic controllers have been against is the setting of European-wide performance targets focusing on cost-reduction. GATCO, IFATCA and other ATC professional organisations have warned, multiple times, European institutions, Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and other aviation stakeholders about the risks of implementing short-term measures aiming to reduce cost. The lack of investment on staff, combined with the fact that some planned technological solutions to increase staff efficiency have not materialised or have not delivered the promised benefits, explains why the European ATM system has not been able to cope effectively with the increase in air traffic.
  • Air traffic controllers, through their professional organisations, have been highlighting for a number of years another main problem in ATM: the lack of technological standards. The development of technology in ATM has taken place mostly in a fragmented way, following the underlying State-specific structure of the ATM system. Our industry has not given enough consideration to the immense benefits interoperability, standardisation and Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products can bring to ATM. Just imagine where the mobile communications industry would be now if they had not started working on worldwide standards and interoperability last century.

GATCO and IFATCA would like to thank The Economist for bringing the problems and challenges the ATM industry are facing to the fore. It is only by shedding light on the issues that those can be assessed and resolved. It is imperative that the ATM industry learns from past mistakes and develops its full potential. It is only by doing so that the performance and efficiency of worldwide ATM will improve, so the travelling public and other airspace users receive the ATM service they deserve.

You can read GATCO and IFATCA’s full letter here.