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European Airspace Strains Cause 400% Spike in Flight Delays

The latest report published by the Single European Sky’s Performance Review Body reveals infrastructural and investment challenges in airspace management as the aviation industry recovers. Through a combination of unavoidable events and a lack of adequate investment, Europe’s airspace faces capacity constraints which resulted in a 400% increase in flight delays last year.

The latest report published by the Single European Sky's Performance Review Body reveals infrastructural and investment challenges in airspace management as the aviation industry recovers. Through a combination of unavoidable events and a lack of adequate investment, Europe's airspace faces capacity constraints which resulted in a 400% increase in flight delays last year.

European Airspace Challenges Result in Flight Delays

In 2022, air traffic increased significantly across various parts of Europe. However, this surge in traffic clashed with limited capacity, previously observed in 2018 and 2019. As a result, certain Member States could not meet the capacity demand, resulting in flight delays exceeding the targeted levels.

Inefficiencies Exacerbated by Conflict in Ukraine

The lack of capacity in the aviation industry has led to inefficiencies in horizontal flight. As a result, Union-wide targets for KEA were missed by a significant margin. A shift in traffic patterns due to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, resulting in the avoidance of the airspace of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, has further exacerbated the situation.

Wide Variation in Performance Among Member States

The 2022 monitoring report and dashboard highlight a wide variation in performance among Member States. Some air navigation service providers (ANSPs) have successfully adapted to air traffic recovery and the changing traffic routes. However, for others, their performance has worsened. While some ANSPs faced challenges beyond their control, others experienced declining performance due to insufficient investment in capacity. The PRB says the ANSPs must address this lack of investment in the coming years.

Despite the mixed performance in terms of capacity and cost-efficiency, it is worth noting that safety, as measured under the performance and charging scheme, has remained positive throughout 2022.

Analyzing this and previous monitoring reports can provide valuable insights for ongoing discussions among Member States regarding regulatory measures necessary to achieve future objectives related to key performance areas (KPA).

Airlines for Europe (A4E) Demand Improvements

Airlines for Europe (A4E) is calling for improvements in European airspace management due to the widening gap between airline demand and airspace capacity. The latest report from the Single European Sky’s Performance Review Body reveals significant increases in flight delays, with a 400% rise in average delay per flight. A4E urges member states to take immediate action to prevent future capacity gaps and alleviate the negative effects on airline operations and passenger inconvenience.

Commenting on the report, Managing Director of A4E, Ourania Georgoutsakou, said: “Airlines are cruising when it comes to their recovery while Europe’s airspace remains stuck on the ground. We can’t afford another repeat of the 400% increase in the average delay per flight. Europe’s passengers deserve better.”
 
She continued, “This isn’t just a report; it’s a call to action. We need to bolster Europe’s airspace capacity, drive reforms in its operations and pave the way for airlines to operate more efficiently. Not only will this deliver a better passenger experience—it will also further enable airlines to reduce their environmental footprint.”

The SES Geographical Scope

SES Regulation coverage area. Source: PRB

SES Regulation covers:

  • 29 States
  • 29 En route charging zones
  • 26 Terminal charging zones
  • 49 ACCs
  • 145 Airports

Highlights of PRB Annual Monitoring Report (AMR)

2022 Performance – High-Level Results

IFR movements
8,345 (’000) flights
(+52% vs 2021)

En route service units (SUs)
108,380 (’000) SUs
(+3.8% vs plan) 
(+62% vs 2021)

Safety KPA
EoSM (ANSPs on/above the target):
Risk management: 18 (+7 vs plan) 
Other MOs: 27 (-3 vs plan) 

Environment KPA
KEA: 2.96%
(+0.59p.p. vs target) 

Capacity KPA
En route ATFM delay: 1.69 min/flt
(+1.19 min/flt vs target) 

Cost-Efficiency KPA
AUC trend: -43.9%
(-5.4p.p. vs DUC trend) 

Download the full PRB Report here.

About A4E

Airlines for Europe (A4E) is the largest airline association in Europe. Based in Brussels, A4E collaborates with policymakers to develop aviation policies that prioritize the safety, competitiveness, and sustainability of air travel for Europeans. A4E and its members are actively working towards achieving Net Zero carbon emissions for their own operations by the year 2050 as part of the aviation industry’s Destination 2050 roadmap. With a modern fleet of over 3,300 aircraft, A4E Airlines transported over 610 million passengers in 2022, serving nearly 2,000 destinations. In addition, A4E members transport more than 4 million tonnes of essential goods and equipment to over 360 destinations annually, either by freighters or on passenger aircraft.

About the PRB Annual Monitoring Report

Under Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/317 (herein referred to as the Regulation), monitoring is one of the primary tasks of the Performance Review Body (PRB). It ensures that Member States, the European Commission, and stakeholders stay informed about how Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) perform in relation to their performance targets.

The legal basis for monitoring air traffic management performance in the SES area is defined in Article 11 of Regulation (EC) 549/2004 (the Framework Regulation) and Article 3 of the Regulation.

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