The latest official comparison between air traffic management (ATM) in Europe and the US highlights familiar problems for the old world’s fragmented system. With one air navigation service provider in the US covering about the same geographic area as do the 37 ANSPs in Europe, it is no surprise that American taxpayers receive far better value for money.
The US employs about a quarter less air traffic controllers, yet its smaller cohort handled 56 per cent more flights than Europe in 2015. On this metric virtually no improvement has been made since the last comparison, in 2014, although Europe does lead the US in other areas.
Airport efficiency, for instance, is notably better in Europe, which has lower airport-related delays and an average delay per delayed flight 21 minutes shorter than in the US. Airlines also spend 90 seconds longer taxiing out at US airports - perhaps another symptom of that system’s meagre implementation of slot controls.
In the air, however, the US is still operating in a different league, even if Europe - helped by Single European Sky policies, is closing the gap.
Eight years ago a whopping five per cent of European flights were delayed by more than 15 minutes during flight, compared with only 1.1 per cent in the US. Last year this had dropped to 2.3 per cent in Europe and 0.8 per cent in the US.
"Whereas in the US en-route delays are mostly driven by convective weather, in Europe they are mainly the result of capacity and staffing constraints,” states the latest report. Europe also suffers from the underlying structural handicap of having 37 service providers.
As a result, its airlines are forced to use circuitous flight plans that are on average 4.6 per cent longer than the most direct route. In the US flight plans only contain 3.5 per cent inefficiency, though in both geographies air traffic controllers manage to reduce actual inefficiency to similar levels.