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Airplanes and traffic control: France brakes Europe

A report imputes European delays to the country

The obsolete ATC system, where it does not create security problems, it leads to delays and hinders the "Single European Sky"

The French Senator Vincent Capo-Canellas accuses France of slowing down the punctuality of European air traffic with its delays. He did so in the information report presented to the Finance Committee: in the BACEA (Budget Annexe Contrôle et Exploitation Aériens), he denounces the conditions of the French ATC (Air Traffic Control), making recommendations on its modernisation. The report by Capo-Canellas, special rapporteur of the finance committee, is the conclusion of a budget review following which the senator made about fifteen auditions in the Senate and visited several air navigation control centers, also going to Brussels to meet representatives of the European Commission and the International Eurocontrol Organization.

According to the Senator, "the current situation of French air traffic control is worrying for the obsolescence of the systems, which if it does not create a security problem creates many delays, and led France to be indicated as the element that hinders the SES ("Single European Sky"). The various accumulated delays lead to a real standoff compared to our European partners, with whom we are building a 'Single European Sky'".

As we can read in the report, France is working on implementing the major technological projects that DSNA (the Directorate of Air Navigation Services) has been carrying out since the beginning of the 2000s, the cost of which is now estimated at 2.1 billion EUR. The deadlines are constantly postponed and the maintenance costs of the current system rise dramatically. While the instruments available to the French air traffic controllers are now largely obsolete, it is clear that more modern systems could considerably increase their productivity. All the main European countries have adapted.

Air traffic controlled by French ATC increases by 4% per year. Here lies the issue of the "wall of capacity": neither the tools nor the software nor the organization of human resources have been adapted this challenge (the "Single European Sky", editorial notice). Every minute of delay caused by the French air traffic control alone represents the 33% of European delays on the 20% of controlled traffic.

"Everything suggests that the situation will deteriorate over the next few years, and strong solutions must be developed to change direction".

The document continues: another major obstacle to increasing traffic consists of human resources. The control towers must be much more flexible and adaptable to the seasonality of traffic, and its flow during peak periods.

Furthermore, it is essential to limit the impact of the strikes by French air traffic controllers on the organization of European air traffic. These trade union actions represented nothing less than 67% of air traffic controllers' strike days in Europe from 2004 to 2016. France has been accused in all international forums. The current system that provides for the hypothetical accession of 50% of staff leads to significant preventive reductions in the number of flights, this happens even if the striking controllers are ultimately fewer. On this theme, Capo-Canellas suggests that the Diard Law, that requires staff to declare to be striking or non-striking, is also applied to air traffic controllers, although with appropriate adaptations.

After the abrupt change of direction suggested, the Senator said he was convinced that DSNA will be able to "get back on track" thanks to the quality of its teams, and to rediscover the ambition that should be inherent in the ATC services of the second global aeronautical power.

But this will involve learning from the past mistakes, concludes Capo-Canellas, and making very significant efforts to accompany the ever increasing air traffic with renewed efficiency.

The version of the document concerned, given to the press by the French Senate, is linked to this AVIONEWS article.

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