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Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre meeting

Maastricht Upper Area Control (MUAC) held its annual customer consultation meeting at London Heathrow to share and discuss performance over the past year as well as share the experiences or airspace operators and provide details of mitigations with a view to easing the capacity burden of 2019.

The Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) is an international non-profit air navigation service provider, operated by EUROCONTROL on behalf of four States – Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

MUAC ensures that aircraft flying in the upper airspace (above 24,500 feet or 7.5 km) over the Benelux and north-west Germany can do so safely and efficiently. To manage this busy and complex airspace, MUAC is organised on a multinational, cross-border basis.

ERA participated in an annual customer consultation meeting, held to share experiences, discuss mitigations and the way ahead at the 2018 event held near London Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Discussion was largely focussed on the following main points:

MUAC performance

The Reference Period 1 (RP1)/RP2 performance scheme pressures have forced MUAC to reduce its financial cost despite traffic handled being consistently close to or above the high traffic forecast. Overall Air Traffic Control Officer (ATCO) and Sector productivity is the highest in Europe whilst demand is expected to continue to grow (STATFOR high predicts +16 per cent in the next 5 years).

Delay causes – indicating airspace saturation

Brussels suffered significant weather delays which obscured capacity and staffing delay, but the high proportion of delay in Brussels indicates severe airspace saturation – demand exceeds capacity.

All sectors currently affected by staffing constraints with sector opening times planned according to staff rather than traffic demand.

Airspace – complexity and constraints

MUAC airspace is identified as being in the top three most complex in Europe with significant areas of military activity which, although providing additional anticipated complexity, the position of these areas impacts MUAC sectors as well as the unaligned Flexible Use of Airspace principles between states leading to reduced airspace availability and future military requirements such as airspace utilisation following introduction of new aircraft types such as the F35.

Measures taken and results

MUAC is taking extensive measures to mitigate the effects of the issued mentioned including offering more capacity (+8 per cent traffic in 2018), introducing structured flow measures with an overall network perspective (containing delay despite staffing constraints), the gradual implementation of Free Route Airspace and planning the most efficient routing for the customer. As in other aviation sectors, air traffic controllers are in high demand and MUAC is actively engaged in ongoing recruitment of controller students at high rate while maximised controller intakes.

ERA is encouraged to hear that MUAC is engaging with airlines to find solutions for key flights (5000+ flights, 140 000+ min saved) and are pleased to participate on behalf of our members.

Key issues

A number of key issues were identified, all of which are common with other years such as excessive peak demand, the introduction of a traffic Prediction Improvement Project, closer cooperation with the Network Manager, airports, ANSPs and operators, continuation and expansion of the four MUAC Air Traffic Control Centres & NM and a Customer Initiative trial. Suboptimal airspace and sector design aligned with continual minor improvements with neighbouring ANSPs was discussed as an area for wider discussion under the Single European Sky initiative and SESAR.

For further information, please contact russell.dudley@eraa.org