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Contrails over France / NASA

Europe’s aviation faces “serious capacity challenges”

A new study warns that changes are needed now to avert more flight delays in the future.

Europe’s aviation network is struggling to cope with record levels of traffic, a new study warns, with airports and airlines finding it hard to cope.

European aviation is seeing “high levels of delay” this year as the network strains to deal with ever-increasing passenger numbers, the new study by the air safety and navigation body Eurocontrol says.

The report, called Challenges of Growth, finds that without urgent action Europe’s network will be unable to cope with the demand for flights predicted by 2040.

The first five months of 2018 have seen much higher delays than in recent years, Eamonn Brennan, Eurocontrol’s director general, said at the Airports Council International General Assembly held in Brussels this week.

Traffic during the period increased by 3.4% year-on-year, but air traffic flow management delays rose “dramatically”, he said, from 0.46 minutes per flight to 1.05 minutes per flight.

Almost 30% of this delay was attributed to disruptive events such as strikes, and 27% to weather. However, as much as 55% was attributed to staffing and capacity issues, notably in Germany, France and the Low Countries.

Growing pains
The Challenges of Growth study looks at the issues European aviation will face between now and 2040.

“Europe is already struggling to cope with the levels of traffic this year. Our most likely scenario predicts a growth of 1.9% a year between now and 2040. That means 16.2 million flights a year. But it could be as much as 19.5 million flights a year under our highest growth scenario,” Brennan said.

“In our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040.”

He added: “Clearly this is a long-term forecast so we do have time to address the issues it raises but providing more capacity, and especially on this scale, requires long-term planning. Therefore I think we need to address the issue as a matter of urgency.”

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