Europe has the world’s most crowded and fragmented air traffic environment. In an effort to improve air traffic flow, government agencies in Europe often require installation of certain avionics.
Are they all effective? The answer may be a matter of opinion? But it’s the smaller, regional airlines that feel the cost of new avionics more intensely.
To gain insight into Europe’s regional airline market and how it is impacted by regulations, Avionics Magazine spoke to Mike Ambrose, director general of the European Regional Airline Association (ERA).
Avionics Magazine: What are the key issues in avionics for European regionals?
Ambrose: The key issue is, what benefit do we get from fitting specific avionics? If we’re being asked to put a kit [avionics equipment] into an aircraft, it has to be for good reasons. These can only be improved safety or increased capacity, or a combination of the two.
What we have seen so far has caused a lot of unrest in the operations departments of our member carriers. They have put a kit in, at considerable expense, and we have yet to see any substantial capacity benefits.
Avionics Magazine: Do you mean air space capacity benefits?
Ambrose: Yes. The second big item is the procedures that we have had to follow to put this kit in. Europe still does not have the equivalent of the FAA NPRM [U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] process. As a consequence, the state agencies providing air traffic services, Eurocontrol and the JAA [Joint Aviation Authority], have collectively badly mismanaged the entire process of modification requirements and timescales.
We’ve been required to modify aircraft on impracticable timescales because they have been set without taking into account the ability of the avionics industry to produce the kit on time. Today, avionics suppliers have become lean and mean; they don’t have multiple production lines, and the need to suddenly switch production to meet a European requirement has not been accepted. It was not until ERA convened a meeting of aerospace manufacturers, avionics manufacturers, and the airlines, all in one room with Eurocontrol, that we ever had that group under one roof!
Avionics Magazine: When did that occur?
Ambrose: About three and a half years ago, in the run up to the BRNav [basic area navigation] requirement. The timescales did not take into account the ability, and indeed the willingness, of airframe manufacturers to produce the required service bulletins [for integrating new equipment-Ed]. And the state certification authorities do not accept the approvals of other state authorities.
There is a massive organizational problem within the JAA. The state authorities have made it very clear that they do not intend to solve it because they would lose jobs. It’s job protection, rather than trying to reduce the aggregate cost of regulation.
Avionics Magazine: Is that to do with the fact that the JAA has no legal power?
Ambrose: It’s a club. But if there was a willingness there, mutual acceptance could be done on a bilateral basis. It does not have to be done laterally the whole time.
For example, the UK CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] would not say that anything that Germany’s LBA [Luftfahrt Bundesamt] does is unsafe. They would not come out and say that publicly. Yet that is what they are saying by insisting on doing [duplicate certification] themselves.
As soon as you try to solve these regulatory issues by going down the NPRM road–and to Eurocontrol’s outstanding credit, they have tried to introduce it–you get a very strong reaction from the states against it. It commits them to quantify and define the cost benefits and to deliver them. They don’t want to be held on either count.
At the moment, air traffic service providers can determine what needs to be done and impose operational restrictions on aircraft that don’t meet those requirements. For example, 8.33 KHz [radio frequency spacing] applies at a defined flight level, and if you don’t have [a radio with the increased number of frequencies], you’re kept "downstairs." But, if the state does not meet its timescales in allowing the capacity benefits of 8.33 KHz to be used, airlines have no sanction [compensation] against it.
We will see this, I am sure, raise its head again with RVSM [reduced vertical separation minima]. It’s going to be a massive job to implement it. But if we find that the states cannot introduce it on time, what compensation will we get? None.
We don’t have a satisfactory [government-industry] partnership culture. It will come about only if we have a strong European NPRM procedure, where each side is given adequate warning, the rules are spelled out, and all comments can be made publicly.
Avionics Magazine: Might this come about as the JAA gives way to the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA)?
Ambrose: An ERA delegation met with Commissioner Loyala de Palacio in early March. She is vice president of the European Commission [EC] and responsible for transport. We pleaded with her to change the current institutional arrangements at the JAA. We need a regulatory authority whose task is to reduce the aggregate cost of regulation by taking advantage of the economies of scale. We have pleaded with her not to produce a weak-kneed agency.
BRNav is a good example. We had the requirement. It did not take into account the certification authorities’ problems in approving the installations; it did not take into account the shortage of maintenance facilities which could install it. We put it in. Did we get many benefits from it? We’re getting a few direct routings. Have we had any benefits in the terminal areas? No.
Avionics Magazine: Why not?
Ambrose: It’s the guys that draw up the operating procedures. Our aircraft are highly maneuvrable, highly environmentally acceptable, yet the procedures confine them as if they were fragile, ancient [Boeing] 707s flying with full loads.
We can be a lot more flexible and creative with our SIDs and STARs [standard instrument departures/terminal arrival routes]. Okay, you have to build SIDs and STARs around heavy metal, but do you need to fly that kind of thing with aircraft that go upstairs [rate of climb] like homesick angels? No. We need to think more creatively with ATC [air traffic control].
Avionics Magazine: Can you give an example?
Ambrose: Consider those airports that have parallel runways that are close together; you have to fly sequenced approaches. You can break the sequence and get more capacity if one aircraft lands further down the runway [see sidebar-Ed]. We proposed this in 1989.
We have a range of aircraft that will regularly land on 1,200 meters [3,940 feet] and we’ve got 4,000 [13,124 feet] at some airports. So sticking another glideslope in is not a big problem–little expense when compared with the benefit of three or four extra movements an hour.
Avionics Magazine: It’s basically resistance to change then.
Ambrose: Yes. The Americans say, "how are we going to do it?" the continental Europeans ask, "can it be done?" and the UK says "it can’t be done."
Avionics Magazine: Do you know how much money the European regionals are required to spend on avionics?
Ambrose: In 1996, an ERA board estimate reckoned that the package that we knew then would cost about $550,000 per hull, excluding commercial costs of the downtime. All that we have heard since, is that that is a conservative estimate.
Our problem is that these costs are loaded onto aircraft that have one-fifth as many seats as the majors. Avionics cost the same no matter how many people you have strapped in behind them.
Avionics Magazine: Besides BRNav, 8.33 KHz and RVSM, what programs affect you?
Ambrose: We’ve got the airborne collision avoidance system to do, Mode-S, enhanced Mode-S, PRNav [precision RNav], and GNSS [global navigation satellite system], among others. It won’t be too long before we might have to have flight data recorders that download in real-time to ground stations.
Another big issue is that we do not want just European solutions; we want worldwide solutions. Aircraft in the U.S. are working in an entirely different solution system. It makes it very difficult to bring the aircraft into a different environment. Europe has to learn that it does not always know best.
If we sell aircraft or buy them in, we want to have compatibility. We don’t want to have to modify them. We want better economies of scale and effectiveness of systems.
Take EGNOS [European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System], for example. We all said, "if you want to go ahead with EGNOS for European Space Agency reasons, fine, no problem, but don’t you dare put it in the Eurocontrol cost base." We don’t want it. It has no benefits. Don’t develop it for one reason and then come to us, expecting us to pay for it.
If we can’t get a reduction in our weather minima from it, where’s the benefit? The technical experts from the large carriers have said "EGNOS does nothing for us at all."
Look how they promoted MLS [microwave landing system], and what’s that given us? At least the Americans had the guts to say, "You got it wrong, guys." Unless we can provoke the airlines into collective rebellion, they’re just about to do the same thing at the World Radiocommunication Conference [WRC-2000–see Editor’s Note, page 4] in May. They’re threatening a reallocation of frequencies [for mobile phone use-Ed] that could render GPS unsafe for navigation.
It should never be on the agenda. There is no perception at the higher levels of government of the value of air transport. We need encouragement and facilitation from government.
Avionics Magazine: Is there any market for in-flight entertainment on regionals?
Ambrose: Everyone has said "no." That has been the conventional wisdom, based upon the costs of installation.
Seatback screens will be very expensive for some time, but maybe a drop down system from the overhead bins could be more affordable in a few years’ time.