Analysis: Europe’s aviation summer impacted by weather

Passengers board a jet in stormy weather.
Photo Credit: Radubradu via Pexels

The European air traffic landscape experienced significant shifts and challenges in July 2023.  Notable among these was weather considerations. Europe experienced extreme weather in July and the weather-related delays during this month was over two and a half times the 2022 figure according to Eurocontrol data.

The main impact has come from convective weather (thunderstorms etc.), notably in Germany, Hungary and Serbia. At airports, the largest weather delays have been at Frankfurt, Gatwick and Munich.

July 2023 marked a notable upswing in air traffic, with a 7% increase compared to the same period in 2022. A remarkable milestone was reached as the total number of flights surpassed 1 million for the first time since September 2019.

This resurgence was particularly pronounced in south-east Europe, where traffic levels even surpassed those of July 2019 in approximately half of EUROCONTROL’s Member States.

However, this progress wasn’t without its share of challenges, primarily posed by extreme weather conditions. These weather-related delays had a substantial impact, with Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) delays due to adverse weather exceeding the figures recorded in 2022 by over two and a half times.

Convective weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms, played a significant role, notably affecting regions like Germany, Hungary, and Serbia. Airports like Frankfurt, Gatwick, and Munich bore the brunt of these weather-induced delays.


Europe Weather – Delays and Performance

An intriguing aspect of the performance analysis was the separation of delays into two categories: those attributed to weather conditions and those unrelated.

Delays per flight due to non-weather factors decreased by nearly a quarter, down to an impressive 2.5 minutes per flight. This reduction in delays is particularly noteworthy considering the simultaneous 7% increase in traffic volume.

When Europe weather-related delays are factored in, there is a slight uptick in delays per flight, increasing from 3.9 to 4.1 minutes per flight. This nuanced approach to understanding delays provides a clearer picture of the factors influencing air travel efficiency.

It’s important to note that while ATFM delays contribute to the overall delays experienced by passengers, they constitute only a fraction of the total delay time.

A broader view of punctuality, encompassing reactionary delays, airline scheduling issues, and ground-related delays, shows a marginal improvement in comparison to July 2022, despite adverse weather conditions. However, this improvement still falls short of the levels achieved in 2019.

A Unified Approach

The positive strides made in network performance during July 2023 underscore the significance of harmonious collaboration among all operational stakeholders.

The close partnership between EUROCONTROL, airlines, air navigation service providers, the military, and airports has yielded commendable results.

This cooperative effort has proven invaluable in addressing the complexities posed by the combination of increased flight numbers, reduced airspace due to geopolitical factors, and the unpredictability of weather events.

The joint effort has resulted in a series of effective actions, including:

Prioritising First Rotation: Giving priority to the initial flights of the day to ensure smoother schedules and timely operations.

Flight Plan Adherence: Ensuring strict adherence to flight plans to minimize disruptions and optimize efficiency.

Realistic Schedules: Crafting schedules that account for realistic turnaround times, contributing to better operational management.

Delivering Agreed Capacities: Ensuring that the agreed-upon capacities are met, preventing unnecessary bottlenecks.

These actions collectively paved the way for a robust performance throughout the summer of 2023.

Weather and Adaptation

In the face of challenging weather conditions, EUROCONTROL collaborates with meteorological organizations and stakeholders to mitigate weather-related delays.

Through a collaborative decision-making approach, efforts are directed towards minimizing the network-wide impact of adverse weather events.

Targeted teleconferences are organized to facilitate practical responses to anticipated weather conditions, ensuring a proactive stance against potential disruptions.

The EUROCONTROL Network Operations Plan plays a pivotal role in this process, offering a weekly assessment of the network’s situation and the strategies in place to address any capacity shortfalls.

This approach allows operational stakeholders to make necessary adjustments to optimize performance in areas experiencing lower-than-anticipated capacity.

Performance Metrics

Breaking down the statistics from July 2023, we find:

Total Flights: A remarkable 7% increase in the number of flights, with 1,018,890 flights in the European network compared to 951,099 in July 2022.

ATFM Delays: An increase of 6% in ATFM delays per flight compared to July 2022. This increase is attributed to Europe weather-related delays, rising from 0.7 minutes to 1.7 minutes.

Total ATFM Delays: In July 2023, the total ATFM delays averaged 4.1 minutes per flight, showing a 4% reduction when compared to July 2019.

Arrival Punctuality: Arrival punctuality, measured within 15 minutes of scheduled time, improved by two percentage points compared to 2022, reaching 63.6%. However, this figure remained below the 2019 levels.

Balancing a Military Exercise and Civilian Traffic

June 2023 also witnessed a substantial military exercise in the core European region. Despite initial predictions, pro-active efforts by all stakeholders led to successful management of the exercise’s impact on civilian traffic.

As a result, a mere 4% of total flights (12,474 out of 293,928) experienced direct delays as a result of this military exercise.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 7 Min Read
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