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31 January 2007 (Last Updated January 31st, 2007 18:30)

The EU's single European sky regulations provide a new platform in Europe to address future challenges. These include ATM convergence with the US, writes Víctor Aguado, director general of Eurocontrol .

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Air transport as an industry is growing faster than the average gross domestic product. In Europe, an average increase in air traffic of 4% per annum can be expected in the long run, while economic growth was closer to 1.9% in 2005 – and 2.1% in 2006. The year 2005 saw 9.2 million flights in Europe, and 17 million in the US. Of these, 467,000 flights were transatlantic, which represents close to 100 million passengers.

In the US, average economic growth of 3.1% is also being outpaced by the annual rate of growth of 5% in total passengers. These upward trends will increase the contribution of air transport to global GDP. An open skies agreement between the US and Europe would boost aviation even more. It would have the potential to generate upwards of 17 million passengers per year – a 15%-20% increase – as well as consumer benefits in excess of $5bn a year.

But for these benefits to materialise, we must ensure that the air traffic management (ATM) system can cope with the increased number of flights. In Europe as well as in the US, this means major change must be implemented. Both continents actually need a fundamentally new ATM system if they are to accommodate the expected doubling of traffic by the end of the next decade.

COMMON GROUND

And while we have areas in which competition between both continents operates – aircraft and systems manufacturing, even commercial airline operations – ATM represents the common ground of cooperation. Naturally, there are some notable differences between the respective challenges faced by Europe and the US.

In the US, for example, convective weather creates specific problems. In Europe, fog and rainy conditions at airports and the civil / military structure of airspace in high-density areas generate inefficiencies in the order of €1bn per annum. The fragmentation of control centres and systems incurs additional costs, also in the region of €1bn per year. But overall, the core issues similar. Safety risk increases as the square of traffic. With the expected increases in traffic growth, action is required to keep safety incidents to an acceptable level.

The airport infrastructure and network must be enhanced significantly to meet future demand. Current indications show that some 60% of European airports will be congested by 2025 and that the top 20 airports will be congested for six to eight hours a day. Clearly, we will need more runways and additional features.

THE CASE FOR CONVERGENCE

So here we have two continents together representing 70% of world GDP and with similar airspace dimensions, each having to develop new ATM systems. The requirement for convergence is obvious. The SESAR programme in Europe and the NGATS pursued by the JPDO in the US must converge wherever possible.

The systems need not be identical, but they must be closely aligned. Several technical areas could converge, such as required navigation performance, common surveillance, air / ground datalink communications, ground-based augmentation systems, operational concepts and airborne separation assurance systems.

"Good cooperation between European and US aviation regulators is essential."

Global satellite navigation systems in particular must be aligned with common aviation requirements. The combination of Galileo and GPS has much greater potential as a sole navigation system for aviation. A single constellation will not be able to provide the required performance in the most critical phases of flight. Suitable funding arrangements must be identified for the sizeable investment required for SESAR and NGATS.

In Europe, we are blessed with a cost recovery mechanism that uses route charges, and thus provides financial stability. This is being complemented by pan-European cost-effectiveness targeting to provide additional efficiency control.

A TRANSATLANTIC BRIDGE

The systems envisioned within SESAR should be interoperable with ATM efforts in the US. For that we need a bridge between both continents, a transatlantic bridge made up of three layers: air transport, ATM and industry. The first layer, air transport policy, bridges individual states and the European Commission with the Department of Transport in the US. The second layer is ATM concepts and technical and operational requirements, connecting the FAA and Eurocontrol.

The third layer concerns industry-to-industry relations. US participation in the SESAR programme is becoming a reality. Boeing, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins participate in the SESAR programme with other European companies. Thus, both Boeing and Airbus are now contributing to the new Air Traffic Management Master Plan for Europe.

Global Air Traffic Interoperability (GATI), first at Boeing then at Airbus, is also the subject of a specific action plan in the FAA / Eurocontrol cooperation framework, addressing flow management and in-trail procedures over the North Atlantic. With reference to the second layer of the transatlantic bridge, a fundamental framework for ensuring convergence is the FAA-Eurocontrol Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC).

The original MoC was signed in 1964 and revised in 2004 to fully capture operational and technical harmonisation in safety, security, capacity and the environment. The MoC addresses research, strategic analysis, and technical, operational, safety and environmental harmonisation.

WORK UNDERWAY

"An EU-US open skies agreement could generate consumer benefits worth $5bn a year."

In addressing NGATS, FAA administrator Marion Blakey said: "To build the system that the nation needs, federal agencies formed a Joint Planning and Development Office."

In the case of Europe, SESAR Planning was launched in a common effort by the European Commission and Eurocontrol, in which I see contributions being made by different European Commission directorates. For the development phase, proposals are being formulated, but again the binomial EC / Eurocontrol will be the key to success.

The economic dimension of the transatlantic link is essential, and air transport is a key component of this link. We are getting closer to a common aviation area, one big air transport market across the Atlantic. That will require the proper infrastructure to be in place. Both continents need fundamentally new ATM systems to cope with growth: SESAR for Europe, NGATS for the US. Cooperation mechanisms are already in place to ensure convergence between the two large-scale developments and
investments.

I am convinced that these cooperation mechanisms, underpinned by strong political will, will deliver the leadership that the transatlantic link brings to the global aviation community.