Airlines for Europe (A4E) has again complained to Europe’s air navigation service providers (ANSPs) about escalating air traffic control delays.

The lobbying group said poor planning of air traffic control (ATC) resources, together with capacity constraints, resulted in 2 million minutes of delays in July—up 12% on the figure for 2016 and 35% greater than in 2015.

The Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), which represents ANSPs, said July had been a blip on an overall improving picture of reduced delays.

In its letter to ANSPs, A4E member airlines’ CEOs said disruption resulting from ATC restrictions this summer meant significant inconvenience for many European travelers.

“Nearly 70% of all ATC regulations in July 2017 were non-weather-related and caused by issues such as ATC capacity, staffing and other issues which are within ANSPs’ control. We appreciate that the complexity in European airspace has grown drastically in recent years, but airlines expect a level of service that facilitates a stable operation,” A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert said.

What A4E described as “excessive ATC regulations,” this summer meant that airlines had to fly longer routes or restrict the number of flights on certain routes, which caused knock-on effects throughout their networks, including crews going out of hours. This translated into frustrating delays for passengers.

A4E called on all European Union ANSPs to take remedial action to address the problem in both the short and longer term.

Reynaert said: “Every day, airline staff, pilots and cabin crew are doing their utmost to manage the demanding operational environment this summer and airlines plan for a certain level of disruption, but today’s challenges require much more robust and network-wide solutions from ATC.

“More than 20 European ANSPs showed few to zero delays and outperformed some of their peers. In light of this, it is even more important that the Single European Sky is implemented more quickly and without delay to start delivering the benefits that can accommodate the current growth in air traffic for airspace users and, ultimately, for European passengers,” he said.

In his response, CANSO director general Jeff Poole said the figure selected by A4E—a delay increase of 12% compared with 2016—was for July only, “whereas the rolling 12-months trend shows continuous improvement since July 2016.”

He went on to say, “One reason for delays this summer has been higher-than-expected volumes of traffic with some days seeing almost 36,000 flights across Europe, almost 1,000 more than in 2016. Unexpected increases in demand often mean that ATM does not have the necessary capacity and staff to handle the extra traffic.” The length of time required to augment ATC infrastructure meant ATC services could not be increased at short notice.”

Several other factors were also involved, he said, including trying to keep costs as low as possible for airline customers by not having excess ATC capacity. And “sometimes an airline is offered a re-route to fly around a capacity bottle neck, but they prefer to remain on the ground and take the delay rather than spend money on additional fuel,” Poole said, adding that states must earmark adequate funds for ATC improvements.

Alan Dron