Adherence to Flight Level: File It, Fly It and Report About It!

In a unique 2-day trial – at the end of September – all pilots in European airspace will be requested to use the cruising level filed in their flight plan as much as possible. The rationale behind is that daily more aircraft than foreseen enter protected sectors across Europe, despite regulations put in place to prevent ATC from receiving more traffic than the controller can handle safely. In 2009 one third of all ATFCM reported ‘over-deliveries’ were caused by differences between the actual FL (Flight Level) and the requested FL in the Flight Plan. This situation leads a lot of ANSPs to decide protective reduction of their declared traffic handling capacities which acts as a buffer to protect Air Traffic Controllers from overloads, but reduces the overall capacity.

In the framework of the “Flight Plan and ATFCM Adherence Campaign" being executed by EUROCONTROL on behalf of ANSPs, it was therefore decided to organise two Flight Level Adherence Days across ECAC States. From 29 September 00:00 UTC until 30 September 2010 23:59 UTC, pilots will be asked to fly the cruising level contained within the filed ICAO flight plan submitted to ATC and not request other levels from ATC, except for overriding operational reasons, weather or emergencies. Following the trial, all stakeholders will be invited to consider the benefits and problems which may have arisen during the trial, and to plan further actions.

As a partner to Eurocontrol, ECA has agreed to inform our members about Adherence Days. At the same time, ECA has expressed some concerns about this initiative and consequently adopted a neutral position. It is ECA’s view that his trial is not going to be effective as it stands since forcing or encouraging aircraft to stick to their Flight Plan (FP) level is adding a constraint, not freeing up the system. It takes away another tactical tool available to professional pilots/controllers on the day. ECA has also pointed out that pilots not adhering to the FP suggested level is sometimes because the planner does not have all the information available to the pilot, as the plan has to be filed some time earlier. The reality of the load and fuel is sometimes different to the plan. The production of flight planning in the context of the current regulatory environment is a key issue and ECA strongly suggests that it is addressed by EUROCONTROL in consultation with all key stakeholders.

Pilots need to be heard and their operational experience is crucial. ECA therefore invites its members to provide post Adherence Day feed-back to EUROCONTROL in support of the reporting process on-line and in conjunction with their airlines by 7 Oct 2010.

For more details, please consult the Adherence Days website. ECA’s letter and EUROCONTROL’s reply are accessible from this link.