On 13th of February 2019, the Trade Union Eurocontrol Maastricht (TUEM) and the management of the Maastricht Upper Area Control Center (MUAC) finalised an agreement in principle to increase the working time of Air Traffic Controllers working at MUAC.
This was done in order to cope with increasing delays as well as capacity demand in the airspace overhead Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, above 7,5 kilometres.
After one and a half years of negotiations, the agreement was signed by Director MUAC, Mr John Santurbano, and TUEM President, Mr Volker Dick, during the TUEM Annual General Meeting on 25th of March 2019, after the Union’s membership approved it with an overwhelming – and surprising – majority of over 95%!
The agreement is not only appreciated by the airline operators, but even by the Director General of Mobility and Transport at the European Commission, who even sent a letter of appreciation to TUEM.
Given the complex legal structure of Maastricht UAC, which is governed by the States whose airspace it controls, every effort was made to finalise all the legal aspects required for the State’s approval on 8th of May 2019.
After some open questions by the relevant States, Maastricht UAC received written approval of the agreement in principle by three member States: Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. While the Belgian Minister of Transport promised his approval in writing by the 28th of May 2019 to the EUROCONTROL Director General, Mr Eamonn Brennan, to the date EUROCONTROL and Maastricht UAC have not received such an approval.
On the contrary, on 28th of May 2019, the Director General, as well as MUAC management received a letter by the Belgian Minister of Transport, stating that approval of the agreement to improve delay and increase capacity overhead the four member states cannot be granted at this time. What is even worse, the Belgian Ministry is linking an approval not only to the agreement itself but also to the future budget of Maastricht UAC, for the upcoming Reporting Period 3 (RP3 from 2020 until 2024). In return, Belgium is seeking an improvement of the MUAC cost sharing key, which defines the contributions of each of the four member States into the MUAC budget.
To TUEM, this is clearly blackmailing not only Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, but also holding the airline operators and its passengers hostage by risking an unnecessary escalation of the situation and a similar, maybe even worse delay situation as during the summer of 2018. With an estimated 80 million euros in revenue for Belgium alone, one can only ask how much more money does one State need?! It seems obvious that Belgium is using its share in MUAC to distract from internal political issues, as well as its problems with Skeyes, Belgium’s local ANSP, which is not only facing serious staffing, but also financial issues.
TUEM will now closely monitor the further development of the situation while at the same time work together with MUAC management in order possibly find solutions. It needs to be clear, however, that what is now being put at risk is not only 1,5 years of hard work, but even more the interest of States, airlines and passengers in the upcoming years. Given the overwhelming approval of the agreement by the TUEM members, MUAC staff has proven its dedication to once again help out in a serious situation caused misguided regulations.
TUEM still remembers the pictures of last summer, when airline passengers were stranded at the airports, while Air Traffic Control was put to blame. With the mentioned agreement, the controllers of Maastricht UAC are aiming at doing their part, to improve the situation for the future.
Nevertheless, it should not be taken for granted that the same understanding will be repeated during possible follow-up negotiations, should the current agreement fail.