New European Routes Fly Passengers Away from Delay Hotspots  

May 23, 2019

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Staring out of the aircraft window at 38,000 feet, it can be easy to forget just how crowded our skies have become. In particular, the skies above Europe are home to some of the busiest air routes in the world, with many connecting major European hub airports with the rest of the world. Compared with the year before, Europe’s total air traffic increased by 3.8% in 2018, to reach an all-time record of 11,011,434 flights.

In fact, the continent had its busiest day in history on 7 September 2018, when the skies were home to 37,101 flights over a 24-hour period.

As a population, we are all flying more than ever before. In turn, that’s driving the demand for air travel and results in European airlines responding to the growing demand by growing fleet sizes in order to operate more flights, boost frequencies and fly as much as possible.

While the vast blue skies may appear to have plenty of room for all of this extra capacity, Europe’s air traffic system, which is responsible for facilitating all commercial aircraft movements across the continent,  is struggling to cope with the ever-increasing volume of traffic.

“Airlines didn’t swap to a winter schedule in late-2018”, said Eamonn Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol. “They continued the same high-frequency schedule and instead just dropped the fare”.

The organisation controls air traffic operations throughout the European region and works with 41 member countries across and near Europe in order to achieve safe and seamless air traffic management. The organisation is also responsible for determining air routes across Europe that apply to any airline flying to, from or over the continent.

“Our skies are already crowded, but Europe faces great difficulty in its ability to ensure smooth operations due to two large delay generators: capacity and staffing, responsible for over 60% of last year’s delays, and strikes/industrial action, responsible for around 15% of all delays”, Brennan adds.

Germany is currently the worst for air traffic control delays, adding on multiple minutes of journey time not just to European airlines, but also to foreign airlines — including those who are merely flying over the country. But unlike France, which ranks in second place for the most air traffic control delays, Germany’s woes are less to do with strike action and more about the air traffic controller staff shortage the country is currently facing.

French air traffic control strikes tend to cause significant flight disruption and force airlines to make extreme detours en route to their destinations.

But in a bid to improve efficiency ahead of the summer season, Eurocontrol has redrawn the map for key air routes, which are essentially ‘highways of the sky’, in a way that ensures flights are kept away from delay hotspots wherever possible.

“We’ve now moved the route for aircraft that are flying from Gulf hubs, including from Doha (DOH) and Kuwait (KWI) further north through Turkish airspace. The new route pushes them north to an extent that they avoid German airspace. We activated it on 29 April, and it’s working well”, Brennan explained.

(Image courtesy Eurocontrol)

“Similarly, on routes from the West, we’re diverting aircraft to where we have the capacity, or there will be delays”, he added.

In addition, the ‘North to South’ flow of Europe, for example, Frankfurt to Lisbon, has shifted West in order to re-route via Brest, France and Santiago, Spain — again, to avoid strike hotspots in southern France.

(Image courtesy Eurocontrol)

Brennan went on to reveal what the unavoidable consequence would be had Eurocontrol not altered flight routes: “We are diverting 1100 aircraft a day on these new routes and if we didn’t, each flight would be delayed approximately 50-60 minutes”.

For now, it’s unclear exactly what challenges summer 2019 will bring in the world of air traffic. These adjustments to key flight routes are already ensuring the least-possible inconvenience to the travelling public.

Featured photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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