The European Commission has received recommendations from aviation experts on the future of air traffic control (ATC) in Europe following a year of severe disruption across the continent.

The commission set up the “wise persons group” to consider developments in European aviation, listen to the views of major air traffic management stakeholders and produce proposals on the future direction of ATC in Europe.

According to Ryanair, Europe suffered 19.1 million minutes of ATC delays in 2018 – up 105 per cent on the previous year – with 60 per cent of those caused by staff shortages. Fifteen per cent were due to ATC strikes.

Eurocontrol estimates this number will double to 38 million minutes of delays if the shortages and strikes continue. Furthermore, by 2040, 1.5 million flights will not be accommodated due to capacity constraints, meaning 160 million passengers would not be able to fly.

The report received on 15 April sets out ten recommendations on how to make the European ATC system more efficient, flexible and sustainable in the future.

These include measures such as continuing with airspace restructuring measures examined in the Airspace Architecture Study to increase collaboration across national borders and to make better use of modern data, automation and communications technologies.

It also suggests speeding up the deployment of new technology and short-term measures to minimise air traffic flow management delays.

Longer-term solutions include increasing the role of the network manager to ensure all ATC managers “act in the common European interest” and rewarding organisations that put innovative solutions in place.

In addition, the report says air traffic controllers should be better supported by technology, while airlines should be encouraged to take the shortest route possible to avoid prolonging flights due to congestion, which could also benefit the environment.

The European Commission says it will discuss the report with aviation stakeholders in the coming months and aims to address the recommendations during the June Transport Council meeting. The commission is also working with the Finnish presidency to arrange a 12 September conference with the aviation community to commit to the implementation of the future of European air traffic management.

Welcoming the news, Peter Bellew, chief operations officer at Ryanair, said: “We look forward to the European Commission immediately implementing these practical recommendations. European ATC staffing is in crisis. Consumers have suffered a 30 per cent increase in ATC delays in the first quarter of 2019. The current ATC system in Europe is broken. Europe needs to take real control of its airspace, which is split across national boundaries. The time to act is now to end the ATC crisis.”

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