Europe-wide air traffic control strike
Jan 21st, 2014 by elisa

A Europe-wide air traffic control strike is planned for next Wednesday, which could lead to widespread flight disruption. 

The industrial action is in protest to the planned safety and savings targets of the European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative, which aims to consolidate air traffic control services across the continent.

Two organisations are staging the strikes: The Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Coordination (ATCEUC), which represents 14,000 flight overseers across 28 countries will strike on 29th January, and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) will walk out on 30th January.

Germany’s air traffic controllers are planning to strike for one hour on 29th January, in a show of support for the expected Europe-wide strike. In the UK, NATS will work as normal despite the strikes.

In a report on Air Traffic NATS chief executive, Richard Deakin, said: “NATS controllers will be working as usual in spite of the threat of industrial action in Europe. If the strikes go ahead we will work closely, as ever, with Eurocontrol and other European air navigation services to help keep people moving whenever possible.”

“We will also work with our airline and airport customers to help them manage their operations should any changes be necessary.

“Any passengers who are worried they might be affected should check with their airlines for the latest information.”

The European Commission says the Single European Sky programme will triple the region’s airspace capacity, cut costs and reduce delays.

Air traffic control glitch grounds flights over weekend
Dec 9th, 2013 by elisa

Hundreds of thousands of passengers across the world suffered flight cancellations and delays after a technical glitch caused the UK’s traffic control system to break down over the weekend.

The problems started on Saturday morning when night shift air traffic controllers handed over to the day shift at the NATS Area Control Centre at Swanwick, Hampshire. The nighttime system failed to switch to the daytime system, preventing additional control positions from operating.

“To be clear, this is a very complex and sophisticated system with more than a million lines of software. This is not simply internal telephones, it is the system that controllers use to speak to other ATC agencies both in the UK and Europe and is the biggest system of its kind in Europe,” said NATS.

“This has been a major challenge for our engineering team and for the manufacturer, who has worked closely with us to ensure this complex problem was resolved as quickly as possible while maintaining a safe service.”

NATS managed to get 90% of its normal operation running by 7.30pm on Saturday, and has apologised for the problems. 

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates air traffic control, is in contact with NATS to discuss whether airlines should be compensated for the flight delays. They are also reviewing the incident to prevent it from happening again.

“As this was an operational issue for NATS, they will be leading on looking into the exact circumstances of what happened over the weekend and the lessons that can be learned. We will of course provide support to that process,” said a CAA spokesman.

Airlines pay a fee to NATS for the services, but it is 49% owned by a consortium of UK-based airlines, which effectively means they would be seeking partial compensation from themselves. The UK government owns 51% of the business.

Passengers are unable to claim compensation from the airlines as under European regulations, the technical problems are deemed outside of the airlines’ control. However, airlines are required to assist passengers during disruption regardless of the reason; this includes providing food, drink, and accommodation if passengers are delayed overnight.

British Airways said it was too early to say if it would seek compensation, and Ryanair said it was not ruling anything out.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said a decision regarding the compensation situation could be reached later today or tomorrow.

Faster flights promised
Dec 6th, 2010 by john

Shorter, quicker and less environmentally damaging flights should be the result of a new agreement between Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland to jointly manage their air space. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has praised the European Commission for this new step towards the long-delayed Single European Sky plan.

Until now, European airspace has been divided into 27 different areas under the control of national governments. This has forced airlines to zig-zag between the different airspaces and military exclusion zones, flying longer routes than necessary, increasing emissions and costs for operators and sometimes even jeopardizing safety.

Diagram courtesy of Lufthansa

The EU ‘Single European Sky’ (SES) initiative was launched in 1999 to create a single European air navigation system by setting up nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs). Two have already been agreed – UK/Ireland and Denmark/Sweden – and the new central European FAB is the third and most important, as 55 per cent of all flights in Europe pass through this block.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said he hoped the new agreement will be “an inspiration for the other member states in their efforts to have all the functional airspace blocks in place by the deadline of 4 December 2012.”

The six FABs still to be set up include the ‘Blue Med’ group which will gather together Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta along with associates Tunisia, Egypt and Albania as well as Jordan and Lebanon as observers.

Despite the current financial crisis, air traffic in Europe is expected to double by 2030, increasing from the current level of 10 million flights to 20.4 million flights per year.

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