A new record was achieved in 2017 with 3.21 million flights controlled in German airspace. The German air navigation service provider, DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, successfully handled the traffic growth. Safety and punctuality remained at their high level.
Business development 2017
DFS looks back on another positive business year. In 2017, the DFS group generated revenues under IFRS accounting standards in the amount of EUR 1,190.7 million. Despite an increase in flight movements of around 5.7 percent, revenues remained below the level of the previous year of EUR 1,219.3 million. This is due to lower revenues from charges resulting from a reduction of unit rates. DFS reduced its unit rate for en-route flights by 16 percent in 2017. For terminal charges at German airports, airlines have to pay 18 percent less since the beginning of 2017.
In total, the DFS group generated a net income of EUR 30.6 million in 2017 (previous year EUR 86.6 million). The company’s commercial business contributed EUR 66 million (previous year EUR 53.3 million) to the group’s overall performance. “The DFS group achieved its targets in 2017. In view of difficult framework conditions, we can be very content with this result,” said Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, CEO of DFS.
Forecast for 2018
For the business year 2018, DFS expects a difficult market despite the general upward trend in air transport. DFS launched an ambitious cost-cutting programme to reach its cost targets. The aim is a decrease in annual operating costs by almost 10 percent, compared to the base year 2012. This also includes a decrease in personnel, which is to be reached by means of natural turnover. Since 2012, the number of staff has declined from 6,103 to 5,378 (as at 31 March 2018). Personnel expenses are the largest cost item at DFS, which increased by 2.9 percent despite personnel reduction. These amount to EUR 862.8 million (previous year EUR 838.5 million).
Strong traffic growth continues
In 2017, air traffic in Germany continued its positive development from the three previous years. DFS recorded a total of 3,211,771 controlled flight movements in German airspace, 3.3 percent more than in the previous year. This is higher than the former record of 3.15 million flights measured in 2008. In the first quarter of 2018, the traffic volume continued to grow strongly. With 709,818 flight movements, DFS recorded a plus of 3.5 percent compared to the previous year.
This traffic growth is due to strong economic growth in Germany and continuing growth in the entire Euro area. As in previous years, the significant growth in air traffic is being driven by low-cost carriers. The second half of 2017 was marked by the insolvency of Air Berlin, the second-largest German airline, which had an impact on the traffic figures in the fourth quarter.
In 2017, the number of take-offs and landings at international airports in Germany increased by 1.6 percent compared to the previous year. As in previous years, this traffic volume was distributed very unevenly. High growth rates can be observed especially where low-cost carriers have bases or are expanding routes, particularly in Nürnberg (+7.2%), Berlin Schönefeld (+5.3%), Frankfurt (+2.7%) and in Munich (+2.6%). The negative consequences of the insolvency of Air Berlin were particularly noticeable at Berlin Tegel Airport, with a decline of 6.4 percent.
High level of safety and punctuality sustained
Despite the strong growth in air traffic, the air traffic control services provided by DFS remained on a consistently high level in terms of safety, efficiency and punctuality. “In 2017, the key safety figures of DFS were again excellent,” said Klaus-Dieter Scheurle. “DFS can be proud to look back to an impeccable safety record in the year of its 25th anniversary.” Punctuality, too, remained at a high level in 2017. In Germany, 94.2 percent of all flights arrived at their destination without any delay related to air traffic control (previous year: 96.8 percent). By providing direct routings, DFS also contributed significantly to environmental protection. The average route flown by aircraft in German airspace in 2017 was just 1.18 percent longer than the most direct route. This corresponds to an average deviation of only 3.8 kilometres per flight.
DFS focuses on remote tower solution
German airspace demands a particularly high level of air navigation service provision, as this airspace is extremely busy and complex in international comparison. Technological and operational innovations represent an important means of managing the growing cost-pressure and the continued growth in air traffic while maintaining an unrestricted level of safety. The remote tower control (RTC) project plays a central role in this context. Its objective is to provide aerodrome control service from a remote location in the future and no longer from the tower at the airport. In autumn 2018, DFS will start to install RTC technology at the international airport of Saarbrücken and bundle the control of Saarbrücken’s aerodrome traffic at a central location in Leipzig. In subsequent years, the airports of Erfurt and Dresden will also be equipped with camera and transmission technology and will be connected to the Leipzig unit. “With RTC, we are developing a future technology,” said Scheurle. “More efficient deployment of staff under one uniform concept of operation will allow us to achieve long-term cost savings with an even increased level of safety.”
At the same time, DFS Aviation Services, the wholly owned DFS subsidiary, which was founded in January 2017 and employs 222 employees, markets RTC technology worldwide as a commercial service. Together with its technology partner Frequentis, DFS has launched the joint venture Frequentis DFS Aerosense GmbH.
DFS creates the basis for safe drone operations
DFS has made considerable advances in its activities to achieve the safe and fair integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into German airspace, which began in 2016. DFS is critically examining both the rewards and risks posed by unmanned aviation. Pilots of manned aircraft have reported a rise in the number of occurrences where they were impeded by drones. This underlines the necessity of the DFS initiatives. In 2017, a total of 88 incidents (previous year 64) were reported. “This number was lower than we had expected in view of the number of drones sold,” said Scheurle. “This shows that the continuing information activities of DFS have been effective.” DFS has offered a free app since 2017, which informs users of unmanned aircraft about the rules for drone operation and the restrictions at their location.
Together with its partners, DFS is also working on the creation of a platform for the safe and efficient integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in airspace close to the ground, using the mobile telecommunications network. This includes the identification of drones in an air situation display and their tracking, which thus provides the option to operate drones outside the line of sight of the remote pilot. “Unmanned and manned air traffic are partners, not opponents,” said Scheurle. “We want to create the technical preconditions to safely operate this innovate technology in busy airspaces such as in Germany.”