Regulation in Air Traffic Management

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Regulation in Air Traffic Management

41TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Cancun, Mexico, 15-19 April 2002

WP No. 171

Regulation in Air Traffic Management


In recent years a profound change of the institutional character to the provision of Air Traffic services has occurred. Most of the European Air traffic service providers have been commercialised or privatised. On a global level this trend has not been followed as radically as in Europe.

Air Traffic Services, formerly carried out under direct governmental governance, has always been associated with part of the general public service (ILO tri-partite meeting Civil aviation sector, Chairman summary, January 2002) and/or a governmental task like police or customs.

In order that government can regulate ATS accordingly to the necessary service level to be achieved, regulation mechanisms had to be created. Most of the proposed regulation models have been copied from other network services: industries like railways, energy, water.

In the light of the recent proposed European Commission legislative text on the “Single European Sky” ( some form, especially economic regulations, are proposed.

This WP highlights some of the basic knowledge with regard to regulation in ATM which is known to the authors and should trigger discussion on regulations.


The need for regulation

Since in a commercialised or privatised environment, government cannot have direct control over public limited entities or agencies providing ATS, most governments have proposed some form of regulations. The European Union proposes as well to have regulation on a network level (for 15 member states). The Eurocontrol Agency is establishing a Regulatory Commission in order to introduce the Eurocontrol Notice of Proposed rule making. For the time being the Eurocontrol decision (like implementation of RVSM) have not been mandatory because the Revised Eurocontrol Convention hasn’t been ratified by all the Member States.

It has become clear at least in Europe that one of the future challenges of the Regulators seem to be completely underestimated, ill-funded and not suit the current fashion of commercialisation.

Various forms of regulation


For the time being the ATC sector has no real economic regulation. The cost-recovery mechanism of route charges based at least in Europe on the ‘km x ton flown’ is quite a rigid model. Currently this formula is being challenged by the User Organisations as well as by CANSO. The next ICAO Economic Meeting in March 2003 will be decisive on how this cost-recovery will develop in the future. From an academical point of view there is only one paper (Improving ATS Performance in Europe : the Economic Regulation Perspective, Dumez & Jeunemaître, June 2000) looking at the economic regulation of ATM written by two French academics. They have identified the following systemic errors:

  • lack of market price mechanism;
  • lack of competition in service provision;
  • lack of monopolistic regulation;
  • lack of countervailing power.

The UK CAA has through it’s Economic Regulation Group established some form of price capping on route charges and established further conditions for NATS ( in order to keep the license to provide ATS over the UK airspace including the NAT airspace. Among others:

  • Access to airspace;
  • Minimum provision of service;
  • Minimum investment policy.

The European Commission proposes as well through the introduction of Functional Block of Airspace, to have control over the economic regulation for certain parts of the routes. Their system proposes incentives and penalties in order to achieve the fixed costs.

Other government (e.g. Swiss) have also established Key Performance Indicators in order to have the price of the route charges fixed.

Airspace: route network regulation

Some form of regulation with regard to access to airspace, exploitation and availability have been established in the form of access parameters for both the civilian and military air traffic.


Forms of technological regulation have been established measuring the availability of the technology and its interoperability. Certain technological regulations address the problems of the long-term investment plans.

Safety regulation

Safety regulatory issues have always been addressed in one way or another. In Europe the Safety Regulatory Commission (SRC) tries with some success to establish Eurocontrol Safety Regulatory Recommendations (ESARR). Other initiatives are not yet as prepared as the Eurocontrol SRC work.

Human regulation

There are some forms of proposed human factors, human resources regulation being proposed through the Eurocontrol ATM 2000+ Strategy. They have been formulated into European Convergence and Implementation Plan (ECIP). However the European Commission proposes as well a harmonised licensing scheme for all the EU nationals which can also been seen as a form of regulation.

Some ATSPs have included in their regulation that they would make a staff survey in order to measure the well-being of ATM staff.

Measuring performance and compliance of Regulations

This is the biggest problem in the current proposed framework of the various multinational and national regulators. How to measure the performance of a commercialised ATSP and/or the overall network? The Eurocontrol Performance Review Commission has tried in the last 5 years to propose Key Performance Areas and allocate some Key Performance Indicators. This work has been heavily criticised by IFATCA since it lacks operational insight and that instead of just measuring the performance, the PRC also provides initial conclusions.

The system of compliance with a regulation can only be achieved through the establishment of a license or an authorisation. Various forms of licenses for ATSPs and authorisations do exist. However no real non-compliance procedures have been established in the proposed frame-works.

Impact on ATCO

Clear impact on ATCOs has only be sensed by a few Member Associations so far. But a clear trend is developing that there will be a real impact on working conditions and operational work in the future.


In the light of a more commercial approach to providing Air Traffic Services, the need for regulation has been identified by the Governments, International Agencies and Institutions. The proposed models of regulation take over well-known models from other network industries without paying sufficient attention to the specificity of ATM. Mainly orientated to economic regulation, the proposed regulation framework has the potential to seriously disrupt the current work of ATM.


That SC4 is tasked to monitor this process and if appropriate, establish a policy on Regulation in ATM.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 14, 2020   193   Jean-Francois Lepage    2002    

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