General Meeting

Air Traffic Control
Speaker: Alexander Skoniezki
Alexander Skoniezki
Alexander Skoniezki
CHÂTEAU SAINTE-ANNE Rue Du Vieux Moulin 103 1160 Bruxelles

Alexander Skoniezki is an experienced Air Traffic Controller, senior ATM manager and university lecturer working for more than 40 years in Aviation and Air Traffic Management at DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, at Eurocontrol and international universities.

The system of Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Europe as an important part of the air transport industry will be presented by Alexander Skoniezki with a detailed explanation of:

• Facts and figures of air traffic in Europe

• The legal and organisational framework of air traffic management

• The objectives of ATC and how air traffic is managed safely

• The airspace structure

• The job of air traffic controllers at different control units

• The operational and technical environment

• Financing of air traffic management

• Outlook – future trends

Photos: Courtesy Alexander Skoniezki

A Review
air autobahns

Alexander Skoniezki, retired Air Traffic Controller (ATC) and European ATC instructor, was our speaker at the March ISG General Meeting. Born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, Mr. Skoniezki enthusiastically shared in detail the work of ATCs as they play a crucial role in air travel safety. ATCs work in Control Towers and Radar Control Centres.

Some European aviation data (2022):

• There are 4,000-4,500 aircraft in the sky at any given moment in a day, with an average of 32,000 flights/day

• 9.3M flights took place

• €17.5B paid for the operation of ATC organizations

Aviation remains to be a booming business, despite the Covid pandemic and the environmental issues associated with flying.

As Mr. Skoniezki explained, the “ultimate responsibility for air space control remains with the individual sovereign State and so does the responsibility for providing Air Navigation Services (ANS). ANS are provided by ANS Providers (ANSPs) within national boundaries. In Belgium the ANSP is SkyEyes.

Within the individual ANSPs there are Area Control Centres which distinguish between Upper Air Space (>25,000 ft.) and Lower Air Space (<25,000 ft.), and these spaces are further divided into Control Sectors to which ATCs are assigned. The size of the Control Sectors depends on the complexity running through them – for example, how busy they are and how many air traffic routes are contained in that sector. There are 672 control centres across Europe. Open Sea Areas are also allocated to national airspaces by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In addition to the national boundaries of ATC, Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Center is a pan-European, civil-military organization dedicated to supporting European aviation.

As mentioned above, air traffic routes are “the highways in the sky,” which must be used for
safety reasons. Aircraft navigate these routes using traditional radar and (more so today) satellite
based systems and technology (similar to the GPS with which we are all familiar). ATCs work in
Radar Control Centres and Control Towers. Their mission is to prevent aircraft from colliding in
the sky and with anything on the ground, expedite and maintain an orderly flow of air traffic, and
provide information in emergencies as necessary (such as weather updates). Two ATCs work
together for each sector/position – one communicates with pilots and the other communicates
with neighbouring sectors to allow for transfer of control for flights at sector boundaries.

control transfers

The Tower (TWR), Approach Control (APP), and Area Control Center (ACC) manage each flight from take-off, to sequencing aircraft and maintaining their safe separation, and providing pilots with updated weather and air traffic information. Upon landing and vacating the active runway the aircraft is handed over to Ground (GND) control for parking.

To inform the ATCs about flights in European skies, flight plans must be submitted to the Network Manager’s Operational Center in Brussels approximately 15-20 minutes before take- off, including details about the aircraft and its flight course. Radar information from the aircrafts’ transponders also alert the ATC. The ATCs issue instructions to pilots regarding climb/descent/direction via radio to maintain vertical (1000 ft.) and horizontal (2.5-20 nautical miles) separation minimums. Mr. Skoniezki went on to inform us that Air Traffic Management (ATM) is financed through route charges which amount to €5-€10/passenger. Large losses incurred during the pandemic as a result of limited air travel led to ATM being financially supported by States. Today, ATMs are private companies which are State owned.

Mr. Skoniezki concluded his talk by explaining that the training involved to become an ATC is intense and expensive – only 5-10% of those who apply pass the initial exam, which is followed by three years of training (simulator, one-to-one, and on-the-job training). This training is estimated to cost up to €450,000/student. Today there are approximately 17,500 ATCs throughout Europe.

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