Strengthening airports’ integration in the network through target times concept

EUROCONTROL (ECTRL) has been mandated by the European Commission as the Network Manager (NM) since July 2011 to continuously improve operations and mitigate capacity issues at pan-European level. This appointment has been recently extended until the end of the Performance Scheme’s third Reference Period (31/12/2029) by Reg. (EU) No 2019/123based on the positive assessment of ECTRL performance during the previous RP2. The role of the NM is key in supporting performance improvements and other aspects of Single European Sky (SES) policy for the fulfilment of the goals and is extremely challenging in the context of the continuously increasing air traffic and disruptive weather conditions.

The Cooperative Traffic Management (CTM) strategic project is led by the NM and defined in the network strategy, aimed at providing solutions for the best use of the Air Traffic Management (ATM) resources and reduce the need for Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management (ATFCM) regulations. This implies bridging the gap between SESAR solutions development and their implementation into operation on 5 topics:

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In particular, the Target Times concept consists of assigning a given time to a flight for a specific point in space. The current use of target times is in the context of setting entry times into congested/constrained areas and/or airports, which are translated by the NM into calculated take-off times for aircraft still on-ground. This classical use of regulated entry times has evolved so that local stakeholders, for example airports, can define target arriving times depending on their local needs, while the NM ensures compatibility with the network dynamic context. This has been recently trialled at Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Heathrow airports under SESAR PJ24 Network collaborative management Very Large Demonstration project.



Target times may be set to respond to different purposes, depending on the local objectives, e.g. to solve Demand Capacity Balance (DCB) issues and minimise delay knock-on effect, as in the case trialled at Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca airports; or to minimise airborne holding time at stacks, as in the case of Heathrow. The results observed during the trials with real traffic confirmed the potential of target times to:

  • Improve departure predictability – 10 minutes more accurate target take-off times in the horizon -9h to -3h before actual take-off times;
  • Reduce the number of delayed flights – 37% reduction in the allocated maximum arrival delay, despite the slightly increase of 7% in the total arrival delay allocation, indicating more balanced delay distribution;
  • Reduce the delay knock-on effect – 11% less reactionary delay during the trial;
  • Predict holding times – balanced distribution of holding times around 17 minutes improving arrival management.

In addition to the performance benefits, there are also a set of improvements related to technical aspects and the algorithms behind the use of the concept, strengthening its maturity and paving the way towards implementation. This demonstrates the target times concept potential to solve airport arrival DCB issues and at the same time optimising airport operation. Final PJ24 conclusions and results will be published by the end of SESAR2020 Wave1 for the community. This material will be aimed at supporting operators and service providers to deploy the concept by enabling the allocation and use of target times in their daily operations.

Target times and the validation exercises part of PJ24 only represent one line of action over the five contributing to the CTM’s objectives. This challenging programme coupled with the complex internal procedures required for testing a concept into real operations led EUROCONTROL to hire ALG as its trusted advisor in supporting the activities required to ensure fulfilment of the objectives. This include wide variety of tasks, from project coordination and management, to data analysis and manuals development together with internal and external communication material. Our combined expertise in operations and our knowledge of the SES framework and of the different SESAR Solutions involved was the best guarantee of success.

Having the opportunity to directly support the NM during preparation and execution of real-time trials allowed ALG to perform a deep dive into the key role that the NM plays daily in coordinating the European network and all the challenges this imply at operational, technical and organisational layers. This role should be strengthened in the future, as predicated by the “Wise Persons Group” on the future of the SES, to continuously improve the operational and, consequently, environmental performance of European ATM, through the implementation of a network-centric service delivery model.

About the authors
Rubén Martínez is MSc in Aeronautical Engineering and Director at ALG
Andrea Ranieri is PhD in Operations Research and Senior Manager at ALG
Andrada Bujor is MSc in Aeronautical Engineering and Senior Consultant at ALG
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