Europe’s present airspace is aligned far more closely to national borders than to its users’ needs. This is something the European Commission seeks to remedy through its drive to create a Single European Sky. Skyguide was involved in numerous international projects in 2019 that should help ensure shorter flight routings and more efficient air traffic management.
Every country in Europe today has its own air navigation service provider. The European Commission’s Single European Sky (SES) project is intended to reduce the present airspace fragmentation and harmonise Europe’s air traffic management system to enhance its efficiency. Parallel to the SES initiative, the Single European Sky ATM Research or SESAR programme is aimed at renewing the present technical air traffic management infrastructure.
Europe’s airspace can only be effectively unified if the continent’s air traffic can be handled in larger airspace areas. This would enable air traffic management to be aligned more to the actual needs of airspace users and less to airspace sovereignty concerns. And it is to this end that the continent’s airspace has been redefined into functional airspace blocks or FABs. Switzerland is part of Functional Airspace Block Europe Central (FABEC), together with Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Skyguide is a pioneer in supranational air traffic management: some 40% of the flight-kilometres that the company manages and monitors are actually flown above Switzerland’s neighbouring countries. In addition to its innovative strengths and its advantageous location in the heart of Europe, skyguide can also contribute its extensive experience in both managing complex airspace areas and integrating civil and military air navigation services.
The continuing traffic growth prompted intensified collaboration within FABEC in 2019, to ensure that the requisite airspace controllability was consistently maintained. The coordination with Eurocontrol’s Network Manager in assigning traffic flows among the various control centres helped reduce the delays incurred by flights owing to airspace congestion. At peak times, some traffic was also diverted through Swiss airspace to ease the capacity pressures on FABEC’s northwestern airspace.
On the operational front, further progress was made with various projects. These included Free Route Airspace, a development that will replace the present airways network in a paradigm shift. Under Free Route Airspace, users can freely plan their flight route within a specified airspace area between defined entry and exit points. This permits shorter and thus fuel- and emissions-saving routings. Simulations to validate the Free Route Airspace plans were conducted in Switzerland in 2019 and coordinated with further programme partners. The new system is scheduled to be adopted in 2023.
Work on the XMAN cross-border arrival management tool is also proceeding as planned. XMAN will bring greater fluidity to air traffic in the pre-landing approach phase of flight, avoid congestion and the resulting holding patterns and thereby reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The XMAN tool is currently used for a radius of 160 kilometres around Zurich Airport, which is sufficient to cover 75% of Zurich’s approach traffic in collaboration with adjacent en-route control centres. This radius should be extended to 360 kilometres by 2023