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Aviation: Flight Chaos 2018 Can Repeat – Economy

  • After the chaos summer 2018 with many flight cancellations and delays threatens 2019, the next chaos summer.
  • There is not enough space in the sky. European air traffic control is now planning restrictions on 100,000 Lufthansa flights.
  • Many flights to and from Germany should fly detours in order to avoid the high-traffic sectors.
  • Although detours relieve the heavily flown routes, but cost because of the longer route more money and pollute the environment.

From Jens Flottau, Frankfurt

After the summer of chaos in 2018, it was clear to everyone involved in aviation: The number of flight cancellations, as well as the extent and length of delays, should by no means be repeated in 2019. But six weeks before the next summer timetable comes into effect, it's clear that this summer will be as chaotic as the last, maybe worse. There is not enough space in the sky. But instead of reaching agreement on how to prevent the worst together, the airline industry is arguing behind the scenes about possible countermeasures. The delays caused by the various national air traffic control services more than doubled in 2018, according to the European authority Eurocontrol. According to official statistics, almost a quarter of the delays are due to air traffic control. Many other delays are the fault of the airlines themselves. The airlines see the real situation quite differently. "The delay statistics are to be treated with extreme caution," says Detlef Kayser, the responsible Lufthansa executive board: "Feel the causes of delays at least half of the air traffic control."

From the airlines' point of view, Deutsche Flugsicherung and the other European air navigation service providers are not doing enough to see to it. Many of the steps proposed by Eurocontrol are also rejected because they cause interference with their own network, high additional costs and more fuel consumption.

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According to the airline Eurocontrol plans in the summer restrictions for approximately 100,000 Lufthansa flights. That is about one third of the currently planned program. The figures do not even take account of flights operated by subsidiaries such as Eurowings, Austrian, Swiss or Brussels Airlines.

Many flights to and from Germany should therefore fly detours in order to avoid the high-traffic sectors. Some examples: all afternoon flights from Frankfurt to Madrid would be extended by ten minutes according to the proposals, in the opposite direction the flights would be on the longer route the whole day. Also in the afternoon at ten minutes the flight Frankfurt-Lisbon and the return flight would be extended. It's five minutes more from Frankfurt to London Heathrow.

From Munich to Dusseldorf via Bremen – this proposal is at least off the table

Many flights must not exceed 24,500 feet to avoid the so-called upper airspace. But this leads – like the detours – to a higher fuel consumption. There was even the suggestion to direct the connection Munich-Dusseldorf over the sector Bremen and thus to extend by 25 minutes. This is now back from protest after protests.

Eurocontrol network manager Joe Sultana had proposed further measures at the European Aviation Symposium in Munich on how the delays could be maintained at least at last year's level despite three percent more flights and fewer pilots in France and Germany. Among other things, 600 overflights over Germany and France to the north, south and east are to be relocated to relieve the three most congested regional control centers in Maastricht, Marseille and Karlsruhe. Karlsruhe alone was responsible for almost 16 percent of all delays caused by air traffic control in 2018.

There are also criticisms of these plans, although fewer overflights would be an advantage for the local airlines: "Diversions are a double-edged sword: they relieve part of the airspace, but they burden another and lead to longer routes, higher consumption and thus higher ones Costs and environmental impact ", says Kayser.

Too little air – but too few staff

Many air traffic controllers suffer from an acute shortage of staff and can not fill all shifts, especially in summer. That's why Lufthansa's CEO Kayser is reluctant to agree that DFS and the Air Traffic Control Association (GdF) agree on a scheme for overtime that will at least provide some relief: "A lot of overtime for the pilots would be despite the high costs Airlines are still paying one of the most effective ways to increase capacity. " In industry circles it is said that the pilots demanded a surcharge of 300 percent, while the DFS offered only 250 percent.

But the situation is opaque. DFS does not want to comment on the subject at all. Markus Siebers, board of directors of GdF tariff and law, even denies that there are any discussions. Last fall, DFS sent "one, two e-mails" on the subject, which the GdF had not responded to. So: "There is no official request from DFS in terms of overtime." Even informal contacts do not exist in the matter.

According to Siebers, the GdF is basically ready for talks, "but if so, there must be a future pact." The pilots "will not be ready to bail out DFS" if it's just a short-term action. "An integral part" of a solution must be that "the training is not driven back to the basement at the next opportunity," says Siebers. The DFS has been surprised by the strong growth of air traffic and has therefore trained too few junior drivers. The training takes years and moving pilots from one sector to another is also complicated because it requires new licenses that can take up to a year to acquire.

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