Not only in the field of safety did the national provider of air traffic control services Belgocontrol perform very well in 2016; the company can also present outstanding operational and financial results. Based on the numbers of the annual report Belgocontrol will be raising the bar for the coming years.
For the past few years Belgocontrol has been getting its financial act together. That is why the company was able to make investments that have had to be postponed before, regarding systems as well as staff. Those investments are clearly starting to bear fruit and further strengthen the company for the road ahead.
In 2016 Belgocontrol successfully performed its key mission – to ensure air traffic safety in and above Belgium. Out of 1,040,994 movements not a single category A (‘major) or B (‘significant’) incident took place last year for which Belgocontrol was responsible. That exceptional result was achieved thanks to the professionalism of the air traffic controllers, technicians and the all of the Belgocontrol employees. It goes to show that safety is of paramount importance to the company.
The terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016 hit the Belgian aviation sector hard. The national airport remained closed for a couple of days and in the months after, Belgian air traffic statistics dwindled which impacted the number of movements that Belgocontrol managed. It goes without saying that Brussels Airport was affected very hard by the attacks: air traffic levels plummeted by 6.54%.
At the regional airports airline companies are increasingly developing commercial flights, while the number of flights with small aircraft is decreasing. That trend translates into more service units for Belgocontrol, calculated amongst others on the weight of the aircraft.
In 2016 there was a limited 0.6% drop in overflying and approaching traffic numbers (565,573 movements) compared to the year before (569,043 movements).
Healthy financial results
In 2016 Belgocontrol generated a 26.4 million euro profit, compared to 24.7 million euro in 2015. That allowed the company to further reduce the structural losses from the past. Whereas in 2013 the loss still amounted to 60.9 million euro, it shrunk to 8,8 million euro in 2016.
In spite of the effects of the 22 March attacks, turnover was up by 4%, mainly thanks to the overflights in Belgian airspace (en-route flights) to thank for that. At the same time Belgocontrol succeeded in honouring the commitments it made within FABEC to reduce the Determined Unit Rate, which amounted to 60.95 euro in 2016, while it was still 61.79 euro in 2015.
Return on investments
The strong results were achieved by carrying out the investment plan that comprises 97 million euro up to and including 2019. All throughout 2016 we continued to update systems and procedures and to hire staff as planned.
In 2016 Belgocontrol invested in various landing systems: in Liège in an Instrument Landing System and in Charleroi in Performance Based Navigation. Both airports will also be equipped with A-SMGCS (Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System) for guiding ground traffic. In Florennes a new approach radar was installed.
Investments in the Eurocat system for CANAC2 were pursued.
In 2016 it was the first time that Belgocontrol and Defence published a common AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication) that combines both civil and military aviation information into a single document. The unified aviation documentation by Belgocontrol and Defence is a concrete result of the cooperation between both organisations, which was reinforced last year by means of a formal agreement.
In order to continue guaranteeing air traffic control, also in the event of unexpected problems, agreements have been entered into with other ANSPs. DSNA, the French provider of air traffic control services for instance takes over should any problems arise in Charleroi. The German DFS does exactly that for Liège. For Ostend, Belgocontrol concluded an agreement with NATS (UK) in 2017. For Brussels and Antwerp negotiations are being conducted.
Belgocontrol for its part reinforced its collaboration with Luxembourg, where our company remains responsible for a part of its air traffic.
Belgocontrol has also strengthened its numbers: 57 new staff members joined the company in the course of 2016, and 28 candidate-air traffic controllers started their training. In the meantime, the first air traffic controllers of the previous recruitment rounds have actually started in their new job.
To Belgocontrol it is important to have a good relationship with the people living in the vicinity of the airport. That is why the company has already pursued various initiatives to verify how it can limit the impact of its activities to a minimum and to give its stakeholders as much information as possible.
In that context, Belgocontrol last year concluded partnership agreements with the Antwerp and Leuven universities to conduct research into specific sub-domains of its activities, such as for example the human aspects that influence air traffic controllers in their job. Recently (June 2017) an agreement was also entered into with the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Based on those scientific insights Belgocontrol can further optimize its operations.
2016 has also been the year that CDO landings (Continuous Descent Operations) really ‘took off’ at our airports. Those so-called green landings have been performed ever more often at Brussels Airport (70% of landings have been carried out in CDO) and the procedure that enables them to be carried out has been prepared at the airports of Liège and Charleroi. Since February a test project regarding CDO landings is being conducted in collaboration with a number of airline companies.
Safety is in the DNA of Belgocontrol and its staff. Employees are encouraged to report every safety incident so that the necessary lessons can be learned from it in the future. In case the concerned employee would have unknowingly made mistakes during the occurrence, there will not be any sanction. Belgocontrol highly values the principle of Just Culture; it is in the interest of its staff and aviation safety.
Belgocontrol’s open communication strategy throughout 2016 was also very clear. Via the website www.batc.be local residents can find all information about runway use at Brussels National airport. In the meantime a new and improved version is being developed, which will include data on CDO landings.
Last year a lot of attention was paid to the RAAS (Runway Allocation Advisory System) that was put into service. RAAS is a software that helps air traffic controllers in making a decision on which runway to use. The objectives and the use of the new tool have been explained in detail through various channels. Early this year Belgocontrol invited the local residents at the Steenokkerzeel site for that purpose. In the long run, information on the RAAS will be made publicly available.
It would be stating the obvious to say that Belgocontrol appeals very much to visitors: tickets for Open Companies Day were in high demand. 1,200 interested visitors were allowed entrance to our site in Steenokkerzeel. They were the happy few of over 27,000 people who had tried to get hold of a ticket online.
In spite of the excellent track record, Belgocontrol CEO Johan Decuyper is aware of the many challenges that lie ahead in the coming months:
“We will keep implementing the investment plan. And we will do even better: in 2017 we will be investing the largest chunk of our budget, 37 million euro. Moreover, Belgocontrol will keep hiring new staff. Among other things, we will organize new recruitment campaigns for air traffic controllers.” In the more distant future Belgocontrol wishes to consolidate its position within the European aviation sector. Johan Decuyper: “The Single European Sky will go through major changes in the years to come. Not only do we have a say in that, we also make sure via partnerships that we can keep claiming our role in that process. In Belgium we are making substantial progress in our collaboration with Defence, which offers operational, logistic and financial advantages. And within Europe we maintain good relationships with aviation authorities and organisations so that we can help shape the future of aviation and that we will indisputably be part of it.”