The director general of Eurocontrol has addressed the capacity challenges faced by European aviation in 2018 and in the future, arguing capacity constrains could see passengers grounded in the near future.
Speaking at the ACI General Assembly held in Brussels, Eamonn Brennan underlined that the first five months of 2018 have seen much higher delays than in recent years.
Traffic has increased by 3.4 per cent (compared to the same period in 2017) but en-route Air Traffic Flow Management delays have risen dramatically from 0.46 minutes per flight to 1.05 minutes per flight.
Some 28 per cent of this delay was attributed to disruptive events (such as strikes) and 27 per cent to weather.
However, 55 per cent was attributed to staffing/capacity issues, notably in Germany, France and the Low Countries.
At the event, Brennan stated: “Europe is already struggling to cope with the levels of traffic this year.
“Our most likely scenario predicts a growth of 1.9 per cent a year between now and 2040.
“That means 16.2 million flights a year.
“But it could be as much as 19.5 million flights a year under our highest growth scenario.
“On our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040.
“This kind of report is crucial for policy makers as they prepare for the future.
“Clearly this is a long-term forecast, so we do have time to address the issues it raises but providing more capacity, and especially on this scale, requires long-term planning.
“Therefore, I think we need to address the issue as a matter of urgency.”
Four countries will each see more than three thousand additional flights per day (the United Kingdom, Turkey, France and Germany).
Even though airports are expanding their capacity plans, with the top 20 airports planning to add 2.4 million runway movements, this will not be enough.
On the most likely scenario, 1.5 million flights – 160 million passengers – will be unable to fly by 2040.
Many airports will become much busier, with higher delays.
The study estimates that by 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested operating at close to capacity for much of the day (up from six airports today).
As a result of this congestion the number of passengers delayed by one to two hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.
At the event, Brennan announced the publication of Eurocontrol’s latest Challenges of Growth study, which looks at the issues European aviation will face between now and 2040.
Aside from building additional runways, the study looks at how additional airport capacity can be delivered through other means.
These include technology innovation, schedule smoothing, using larger aircraft and multi-modal approaches.
Other topics covered in the study include the impact of climate change and the expected rise in unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.