Interview with Vlado Bagarić - Chair of the FAB CE CEO Committee

We talked to Vlado Bagarić, Chair of the FAB CE Chief Executive Officer Committee:
“The main role of FABs in the future will be connected to expanding the results accomplished so far”, says the Director General at Croatia Control.

What are the prospects for traffic recovery in the FAB CE area?

The recovery of air traffic is undeniable but the question of identifying the turning point and the intensity of the recovery remains open. The most recent Eurocontrol (STATFOR) forecast released in November 2020, looking at the possible evolution of air traffic in Europe over the coming five-year period (2020-2024), shows that recovery is strongly dependent on how soon an effective, widely-available vaccine is introduced and on the level of public confidence in air travel, with three scenarios envisaged: the optimistic scenario, a return of traffic to 2019 levels by 2024; the second scenario (most likely) that 2024 traffic will only be at 92% of the 2019 figure; and the third scenario, traffic in 2024 will be at 75% of the 2019 figure and will not reach the numbers seen in 2019 until 2029.

Given the uncertainties about traffic evolution subsequent to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the traffic demand forecast for the forthcoming period is highly unreliable as it is subject to daily dynamic changes of various elements (such as local closures of certain markets and the emergence of an effective vaccine and its availability). We hope that the February forecast will be more reliable.

To ensure resilience of the current traffic situation, we should monitor and analyze available traffic forecasting models, to evaluate various scenarios available at the global and regional levels and harmonize them with local elements.

Even in these scenarios, South East Axis traffic could peak above EU average values during the summer season.

What role has FAB CE played in helping air navigation service providers (ANSPs) coordinate their responses to pandemic survival and recovery measures?

Activities are focused on planning coordinated actions at the FAB CE level in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the regular exchange of information regarding the cost containment measures introduced.

For planning purposes and to enable better management of this out-of-the-ordinary situation, short-term traffic forecasts have been issued weekly at the FAB CE level. The forecast covers the period of four weeks ahead and is based on operator scheduling data. It represents the optimistic scenario, that is, the maximum traffic expected based on operators’ current plans for which ATC control centres (ACCs) should provide the capacity.

Additionally, in regard to the functioning of FAB CE Ltd, its overall annual costs have been reduced by approximately 30% as a reaction to the COVID-19 crisis.

With many ANSPs looking at reducing expenditure what do you believe are the key strategic FAB CE programmes which will need to be preserved if we are to ensure we can properly support the recovery and the market beyond?

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s high impact on the aviation sector, it is fundamental to ensure that investments are not stopped and that qualified staff are retained. Traffic demand will eventually return, the capacity will be needed, so ANSPs should use this period to prepare for the times to come. The FAB CE strategic objectives which support the digitalization and transit towards a higher level of automation are the cornerstone of the European ATM Master Plan, the European Airspace Architecture Study (EAAS) and the Wise Persons Group recommendations which need to be preserved. This will support higher levels of interoperability and flexibility, thus providing flight efficiency gains, environmental benefits and cost reduction.

How can we best work within FAB CE to build resilience and scalability to ensure future market shocks can be appropriately managed and what are the key aspects of the latest edition of the FAB CE strategy which will help the airspace alliance meet its long term targets?

In October 2020, FAB CE ANSPs published the latest version of the FAB CE long-term strategy for the years 2020-2030. The strategy was revised to take into account the conclusions of the EAAS and the Wise Persons Group report, setting the priorities of the FAB cooperation to contribute to the EAAS targets. As stipulated in the strategy, the recommendations provided therein call for an industry transformation to a data-driven, services-based environment where increased collaboration, information sharing and automation are expected to deliver the capacity required towards the year 2035.

Looking back over the last few years, how has the European aviation network benefitted from ATM regional cooperation projects pioneered by FAB CE?

In the recent period, one of the main FAB CE operational domain achievements in the context of ATM regional cooperation is the stepwise expansion of cross-border Free Route Airspace (FRA) both within FAB CE as well as with neighbouring ANSPs. As a result of innovative technology and cooperation between the ANSPs and the Network Manager, in 2018, SECSI FRA (South East Common Sky Initiative Free Route Airspace) was put in operation, merging two FRAs: SAXFRA (Slovenian/Austrian Cross Border FRA) and SEAFRA (two FAB CE members – Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – in collaboration with Serbia and Montenegro, which are not part of the FAB initiative).

By delivering the shortest route options from Central Europe to South Eastern Europe, these arrangements generate cost savings for airspace users along the South East Axis in terms of distance flown, time spent and fuel consumed, as well as reduced environmental impact.

A significant recognition for SECSI FRA came in 2019 in the form of the prestigious Single European Sky Award in the Network Performance category.

Furthermore, at the flight planning level, the use of FRA options improves predictability and reduces ATC workload.

And looking forward, what do you foresee as the main role for FABs in the future?

According to the new SES2+ legislative proposal, FABs should no longer be mandatory, but Member States have the possibility to maintain these initiatives if they are considered useful. In the future, it can be expected that only the initiatives which bring certain benefits and added value will be kept.

The continuation of activities on planning a coordinated response to the traffic recovery due to the COVID-19 pandemic, further expansion of cross-border FRA over neighbouring States, work on the Operational Excellence programme, finalization of the NAVAID optimization project and planning of common communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) projects is envisaged.

Using the existing FAB structures, the main role of FABs in the future will be connected to expanding the results accomplished so far, thus strengthening operational and technical cooperation and creating work programmes which will enable us to respond adequately to the future ATM environment.