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Higher in punctuality

Higher in punctuality


Air traffic increased only slightly in 2019, by degrees that were well below those forecast. Total movements in the airspace above Switzerland and adjacent border areas which are managed and monitored by skyguide rose by 0.5% (forecast: + 3.7%). Switzerland’s airports saw 1.9% fewer landings and takeoffs. The volumes of delays attributable to air traffic control remained low.


Air traffic in Europe saw solid growth levels in early 2019. The growth slowed in high summer, however, and traffic levels even declined in the last quarter of the year. With 3 575 flights per day, skyguide again broke its previous daily average handling record (3 558 flights), which had been set in 2018. The peak handling day was 28 June with 4 522 flights. For the year as a whole, skyguide handled just over 1.3 million instrument flight rules (IFR) flights – 0.5% more than in 2018, but well below the 3.7% year-on-year growth forecast by Eurocontrol.



Skyguide’s two area control centres (Geneva and Dübendorf), which largely manage en-route traffic, registered a 0.1% overall decline in their movement numbers. It should be borne in mind here that a single flight will generate multiple flight movements if it is handled by multiple control centres along its route.



Skyguide maintains a range of operating centres at locations throughout Switzerland. The table below shows the development of their IFR traffic. Total IFR landings and departures at the Swiss airports under skyguide’s responsibility were down 1.9% on 2018. Traffic numbers were down at all regional airports with the exception of Buochs.



High punctuality levels

On the punctuality front, skyguide has been given clear and ambitious performance targets by the European Commission for both its en-route and its airport traffic handling. To gain an accurate picture of an air navigation service provider’s performance, however, the delays concerned should be categorised not only by the place where they occur but also by the reasons they occur. Departure delays can have any of a number of causes, only some of which are attributable to the air navigation service provider.


Causes influenceable by the air navigation service provider (air traffic control or ATC):

  • Military activities
  • Exceptional events
  • ATC staffing
  • ATC capacity
  • ATC routings
  • ATC infrastructure


Causes beyond the influence of the air navigation service provider:

  • Accident/incident
  • Non-ATC infrastructure
  • Industrial action
  • Environmental issues
  • Weather
  • Airport capacity
  • Aircraft de-icing


Air traffic flow management (ATFM) departure delays can occur if Eurocontrol’s Network Management Operations Centre (NMOC) predicts that the number of flights scheduled to use a particular airspace sector according to the flight plans submitted will exceed that sector’s capacity. In such an event, the NMOC will assign specific takeoff slots to individual flights.


Despite the high numbers of flights it handled, skyguide slightly improved its punctuality in 2019, and 96.7% (prior year: 96.5%) of all flights were handled without delays. Skyguide thus met the requirements of the European Performance Plan. Average en-route delays per flight decreased from the 17.1 seconds of 2018 to 12.0 seconds. These delays were attributable primarily to adverse weather conditions (43%), capacity shortages (42%) and staff absences through sickness (12%).


The reasons for the majority of delays at airports are mostly beyond air navigation services’ influence. The main causes of the delays at Geneva Airport, which were down 9%, were adverse weather (57%), insufficient landing runway capacity (28%), sickness-related staff absences (8%) and insufficient approach capacity (5%). The prime reasons for the delays in Zurich, which were up 9.7%, were also adverse weather (53%) and insufficient landing runway capacity (23%), along with noise regulations (11%) and insufficient approach capacity (1%).


Fewer en-route delays

Delays to en-route air traffic in Europe saw an 8% decrease in 2019. The main reasons for the improvement were:

  • Much better weather conditions than in 2018 resulted in 24% fewer weather-related delays.
  • As it had in 2018, Eurocontrol’s Network Management responded to personnel shortages in French and German control centres and at the Maastricht control centre by rerouting traffic to minimise delays.
  • Fewer special provisions were imposed in Europe than had been the case in 2018, which greatly reduced the previous volatility in short-term traffic forecasts.
  • 2019 saw (27%) fewer strike-related delays.


Skyguide took actions in 2019, too, to enhance its punctuality:

  • harmonised airspace sectorisation for Geneva and Zurich for overflight traffic;
  • sector planning tools based on hourly traffic forecasts;
  • continuous improvement of the systems that forecast traffic loads and flows;
  • improved flexibility in air traffic controller rostering by expanding their qualifications;
  • new measures to enhance traffic management;
  • developing a new method to identify flights in different sectors or at different flight levels from those originally planned;
  • a Swiss-wide harmonisation of installations and procedures to permit flexible operating processes (under the Virtual Centre programme);
  • limiting VFR and IFR Category A flight movements at Zurich during times when Germany’s DVO restrictions apply and in adverse weather conditions.


Skyguide not only demonstrates its performance capabilities to its owners and customers in Switzerland. Since 2012, it has also been required to do so towards the European Commission (see www.fabec.eu).