Pre-flight checks

Summit seeks to end flight chaos

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And not a plane in sight. Source: Reuters

If you flew to or from Germany this summer, the chances are your flight was delayed, cancelled or even landed at the wrong airport. It was a summer of chaos in the skies, the result of too few planes, bankruptcy, air traffic control problems and understaffing.

But air passengers can now allow themselves a little cautious optimism. A summit in Hamburg Friday, bringing together government officials and aviation industry executives, is considering a package of measures to stamp out the problems and get Germany’s airports moving again.

Among the plans are an app that allows passengers to claim for flight delay compensation; easing the very tight schedules and turnaround times of planes; training more air traffic controllers and increasing staff levels at both airlines and airports.

Air fix

Both government and private sector realize that alleviating the problems will require close cooperation, sources told Handelsblatt, and attendees at the summit will include the CEOs of Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport operator Fraport. Both also acknowledge that change at an EU level is required, especially when it comes to the bloc’s role in overseeing Europe’s airspace. Authorities want to shorten the period for budget and staff planning from the current five years, as this leaves little room to adapt.

They also want to let controllers take responsibility for airspace across borders, which would entail using more advanced technology. Voluntary overtime could ease the shortage of controllers in the short term. One other option to unclog Europe’s skies in the meantime is to implement so-called lower airspace measures. Flight corridors are less congested at lower altitudes, but it means jets use far more fuel than at higher altitudes becasue of increased air resistance.

Another seemingly easy and quick fix to counter delays is to target security checks. Both officials and companies want these to be quicker and more efficient, with the number of staff increased. Some EU countries, such as the Netherlands, have taken the lead on this.

Berlin officials also want to revise fees at the city’s airports so that planes arriving at night pay a financial penalty. They also want more analysis of the reasons planes are late. Others want the revision of the EU’s passenger rights directive to be concluded. It guarantees payments of €250 for a three hour or more delay if the airline is at fault but the current criteria are complex and sometimes vague, and court judgments keep expanding them. Regulations are another target – costs of compliance drove one small Germany-based airline, Small Planet, into bankruptcy last month.

One issue that won’t be discussed at the summit is the proposal from Lufthansa to temporarily reduce capacity at four German airports – Frankfurt, Munich, Düsseldorf and Berlin-Tegel. The airport operators oppose the measure because it would limit growth and the lucrative passenger business.

Jens Koenen covers aviation for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: koenen@handelsblatt.com.

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