SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM) sees the 100 projects it had already completed by February 2019 as instrumental in reducing European air transport delays by 6.2 million min. by 2030.

The projects produced an estimated reduction in delays of 363,000 min. in 2019, general manager Nicolas Warinsko told ATW in a July 1 interview.

SDM oversees the synchronization and coordination of the deployment of the key Common Projects of the Europe-wide SESAR program launched in 2005 to harmonize and modernize air traffic management (ATM) systems and procedures across Europe as part of the Single European Sky policy.

The estimate includes Flexible Airspace Management/Free Route, one of six areas making up the Pilot Common Project, which is designed to boost flight efficiency through a more efficient use of airspace, providing significant benefits linked to fuel consumption and delay reduction.

Air traffic management issues have been in the spotlight since widespread disruption in the peak European summer season of 2018 led to delays for thousands of passengers and calls from airlines to take action to ensure the situation would not be repeated in 2019.

According to Eurocontrol, staffing problems and strikes at national air traffic control bodies, as well as inclement weather and increases in air traffic, led to 25.6 million min. of air traffic flow management (AFTM) delay in 2018.

But the organization believes 2019 could be as bad, saying May 13 that “at the end of March 2019, the overall ATFM delay recorded was 600,000 min. more than was recorded in the same period in 2017.”

“There is a connection between modernization and the capacity issues we faced last summer and will face again this summer,” Warinsko said. “But it’s a drop compared to the millions of minutes of delay that we have to recover. Each summer people ask me ‘where are the benefits of SESAR?’ Technology takes time to be rolled out and to deliver its full benefits. We are at the very start of this modernization process.”

However, airlines and national ANSPs also have a role to play by providing more information to improve predictability, he added. “Just one day of strikes and we lose the benefits. Technology is a contributor, but it is not the only one.”

The benefits of those SESAR projects will start to become more obvious to airlines and passengers by 2022, Warinsko said. “They will start to come out of the background by 2022 and all network users will perceive the benefits.”

So far, 113 of the 349 Common Projects SDM is responsible for have been completed, Warinsko said, up from 100 in February.

Two of the six broader initiatives that make up the SDM’s Pilot Common Project—Flexible Use of Airspace/Free Route and Network Collaborative Management—will jointly contribute a reduction of 27.9 million min. per year, for an annual cost saving of €780 million ($880 million) from the beginning of 2022, the deadline for their implementation.

Referring to a June 25 report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) that called into question the value of European Union funding in SESAR deployment, Warinsko said that EU funding had contributed to the progress already made. “This is the first time that three years before a deadline of implementation we are already 90% either completed, ongoing or planned. We would not be at the same stage of deployment without EU funding.”

However, SDM is taking on board the report’s recommendations for a better level of focus with European funding and less fragmentation on the next call for projects, Warinsko said.

“We have to be more proactive in making stakeholders join forces,” Warinsko said. In the current round of projects, such as implementing flexible use of airspace or equipping airlines with performance-based navigation capabilities, around 70 out of 349 involve multiple stakeholders. That should increase in the next round of implementation projects from 2022, Warinsko said.

The ECA report also concluded that the risk of a conflict of interest was not significantly mitigated. Warinsko noted that none had actually been found. “This being said, it’s a point we will carefully take on board and we will redesign some of our procedures to further mitigate the risk of a conflict of interest.”

Helen Massy-Beresford, helen.massy-beresford@aviationweek.co.uk