© Unsplash/Ricardo Gomez Angel
The European sky is crossed by around 22,000 planes per day, and France, because of its geographical position, is one of the Member States which must manage and direct the most of aircraft on a daily basis. And yet, to carry out their task and ensure that collisions and other incidents are avoided, most French air traffic controllers still rely on a computer system dating from the 1970s.
An archaic system, which was not harmonized with that of the other transit aircraft control centers (CNRA) of other Member States, even though European treaties have been pushing since 1999 for technological modernization which will ultimately lead to on more unified control of the skies across the entire continent.
Air traffic control will experience its biggest update since… the 1970s
In France, decisions were taken in 2007 to completely overhaul the system. And in 2022, Thales and the Air Navigation Services Department (or DSNA, which is a service under the direction of the DGAC) announced the first deployment of the new flight management software package in the regional control centers of Reims and Aix en Provence. During the month of November, the CNRA in Bordeaux should switch to the new software, called 4-Flight – without the passengers noticing anything.
However, the riskiest deployment is undoubtedly that of the CNRA which controls transit to and from Paris airports. This is what will necessarily cause some flight cancellations at the start of 2024. Because we are talking about the majority of air traffic, with a truly major change – while we generally rather update limited components of these systems to avoid problems.
Given the importance of the Parisian CNRA, l’ State has therefore just ordered, between January 9 and February 14, period of this great transition, thecancellation of 20% of flightstransiting through this control space. In total, we are talking about 16,500 flights, including 4,379 for the Air France-KLM company alone, as reported by our colleagues at BFMTV.
A priori, these cancellations mainly concern short and medium haul flights. You will therefore need to be vigilant if you have planned a return to Paris since your Christmas in Toulouse, for example, during this period. Air France explains that“concerned customers are notified directly with a proposal for automatic transfer to another available flight”.
A sign that the change has long been necessary, part of the profession of air traffic controllers involve the use of “Flight strips” pieces of paper on which information on the different flights is printed and which must be placed in a bay, and consulted manually for each decision. 4-Flight is finally putting an end to this practice.
4-Flight is compatible with other flight management systems used in other Member States. Which finally makes it possible, more than 20 years after the start of the first discussions on the subject, to create a single European sky for air traffic controllers. In addition, 4-Flight will make it possible to optimize the layout of the routes that flights must take much more finely – enough to reduce the sector's CO2 emissions by 5 or 6%.