The dramatic growth in air traffic throughout the world presents the aviation community with one of its biggest challenges. With the volume of traffic expected to double by 2015, nations search for practical solutions that will meet the needs of airspace users well into the 21st century.
To this end, the 38 member States of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) have concluded that airspace optimization is a key to improving enroute capacity. The stated goal of the ECAC Airspace Strategy is to Improve enroute capacity by eliminating existing national airspace boundaries. Through the elimination of national airspace boundaries, airspace procedures can be streamlined to the benefit of the entire user community. The ultimate goal of this plan is the realization of "One Airspace" overlying the European continent.
Although capacity limitations are often associated with air carriers operating from larger airports, the demands placed on the air traffic control (ATC) system will unquestionably lead to technological, procedural, and operational changes that will profoundly impact the general aviation (GA) community. As major stakeholders in the U.S. airspace system, AOPA's constituency is in a unique position to shape the direction of future redesign initiatives. With that said, we must remain cognizant of external factors influencing activities in the United States.
Given that the 38 ECAC member States form the core of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) nations throughout Europe, there is some concern that future ECAC activities may incite a worldwide movement toward conformity with many of the proposed airspace initiatives. Given the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) history of adopting ICAO standards and the push toward global harmonization, airspace redesign efforts across the Atlantic must be monitored closely.
As an ICAO member nation, the United States has a stake in aviation matters within the international community. Chief among these is the movement toward harmonization in development of airspace and air traffic control procedures. Because standardization is one of ICAO's primary activities, nations are faced with the challenge of balancing their individual needs with the overall objective of producing a seamless global traffic management system. Among the most keenly felt of these within the U.S. in recent years was the change in airspace classification in 1993. In 1996, the United States realized another milestone in its harmonization efforts by adopting the METAR/TAF weather dissemination format.
Although there was some debate as to the direct benefit realized from this conformity, the standardization of aeronautical meteorology, charts, and information services will be instrumental in establishing the foundation for a seamless global air traffic management system.
Although global harmonization offers advantages to the aviation community, the conformity of airspace must be approached with a high degree of caution. Although the proposed ECAC transition plan was developed to consider the needs of airspace users such as commercial airlines, the military, and general aviation, there are significant differences between the U.S. and European operating environments that make such a program less than an ideal model for future domestic airspace changes. Most important of these differences is the role and impact of general aviation in each system.
Since much of what is being proposed in Europe has applicable benefits in the U.S., it is important we monitor their progress closely. As the world moves toward the global harmonization of airspace, it will be important for AOPA to work with the federal government to keep GA from becoming an afterthought in the planning process.
For a detailed overview of Annexes 1-8 of the ECAC transition plan, see the attached matrix developed by AOPA's Air Traffic Services staff.
To date, no plans exist to adopt the ECAC airspace strategy domestically. Instead, national airspace redesign efforts domestically continue to focus on migrating from the current regional or sectorized airspace development process towards a more systemic approach to air traffic management. These efforts continue to progress in a collaborative manner with input from all stakeholders, including the general aviation community.
The ECAC's call for a single class of airspace would be cause for tremendous concern if proposed domestically. The manner in which changes are implemented abroad should be closely followed, as similar methodology may be employed here in the U.S. AOPA will monitor the progress of the ECAC airspace strategy plan to determine if opportunities exist to improve U.S. national airspace redesign efforts.