CFMU: making the air traffic machine run smoothly

In the 1980s, flight delays and traffic paralysis were commonplace in Europe – air traffic control was too fragmented. In order to resolve this problem, air traffic flow management was entrusted to the Central Flow Management Unit. An effective arrangement in which the EEC played its part.

“The role of the Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) is to identify the bottlenecks in European air traffic between the control centres and at airport level so as to be able to anticipate and avoid congestion” explains Franck Ballerini, Head of the Network Research Unit at the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre (EEC). In concrete terms, the CFMU collects the flight plans originating from the EUROCONTROL Member States, shares them with the aviation players and analyses them. When airspace is saturated, it imposes delays on aircraft on the ground or proposes new routings.

Through its know-how, the EEC has made a major contribution to the CFMU success story. Franck Ballerini elaborates “From the outset, our task was to define and validate the new Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) concepts which would make the CFMU operational. That was in 1992. The EEC built the first ATFM simulator; it was the start of an intensive but extremely stimulating period of activity.” On 28 March 1996, the CFMU started to manage the whole of Europe.

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Helping the network

With the initial objective achieved, the EEC experts continued their research with a view to helping the CFMU and control centres improve their flow management strategies. The result was close cooperation between the aviation players, so much so that this optimised airspace capacity. “This led to the birth of the Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management concept at the start of the years 2000, and to that of the Network Management concept ten years later.”

In 2011, the European Commission nominated EUROCONTROL as the Network Manager of European air traffic. The CFMU became the operational centre of the Network Manager, providing dynamic management of airspace and traffic demand network-wide. “For our part, we are forging ahead in developing new and ever more effective traffic management methods for the operational centre of the Network Manager” reveals Franck Ballerini.