History: Activities of the European Office from 1954 to 1958

EUR Region
The period between 1954 and 1958 (when the 4th EU R Regional Air Navigation Meeting was held in Geneva) could best be described as a period of preparation and transition, and this in a number of respects. The most important of these was certainly that civil turbo-prop and turbo-jet transport aircraft (Viscount, Comet, Caravelle etc.) began to make their appearance in commercial operations, while the appearance of other, bigger types loomed on the horizon. A further point was that air tourism, mostly "to the sun" was gaining momentum because of favourable economic conditions in States situated in the central and northern parts of Western Europe.

The Lockheed Super-Constellation operated
Trans-Canada's Montreal-London service in 1955

On the technical side, the advent of the jet-aircraft was expected to have a number of serious consequences for the air navigation system. Briefly, these were:
  • the significant increase in cruising speed of the jet-aircraft over the propeller-driven airline (around 400 knots = 750 km/h versus 250 knots = 450 km/h) permitted an appreciable reduction in flight time between any two points and thus a higher utilisation of aircraft because they could fly more often over any given distance. Therefore, more flights were possible with the same number of aircraft;

  • the higher speed required faster control action because, for any delay in transmission, the distance travelled by the aircraft concerned was greater (this was particularly critical for the closing speed in head-on encounters of aircraft). Thus, the requirement for more and more reliable position information, instantaneous direct communication between pilot and controller and between controllers in adjacent control positions and/or units became more pressing;

  • because civil and military flights were expected to operate in the same layers of the airspace, measures were required to keep civil controlled flights separated from military flights, many of which were believed to be uncontrollable due to the nature of their mission; and

  • for the first time, economic factors entered prominently into the technical handling of civil flights. This was due to the fact that the fuel consumption of jet engines was extremely sensitive to the operating altitude and speed

The higher speed and the consequent requirement for faster control action would therefore result in an increase of traffic along commercially attractive routes. At the same time because of the sensitivity to altitude, traffic was compressed into a much smaller layer of the airspace than had previously been the case. It was therefore expected that more and more precise navigational guidance would be required by the provision of more VOR's or VOR/DME's as well as improved radar installations which covered not only the airspace around high-density airports but provided also en-route coverage, at least along the busier air routes. This had to be complemented by a complete VHF air-ground communication coverage for direct pilot-controller voice contacts and direct ground-ground telephone communications between adjacent ATC units.

 An air traffic control center in 1957
 The speed of jet aircraft had however one other very significant effect in the particular case of Europe. Due to the comparatively small physical size of some European States, the time required by jet aircraft to overfly these States shrunk to proportions which made, a control intervention by ATC (change of route and/ or flight level) factually impossible if this had not previously been co-ordinated with the ATC services of an adjacent State. This meant that the European ATC system had more and more to operate according to internationally agreed concepts and procedures and that isolated national measures could no longer be tolerated if the system was to work satisfactorily. Needless to say that this in turn resulted in a considerable increase in the co-ordination work of the European Office of ICAO because it offered the best possibilities for this type of work.

After its short-lived experience with the Comet 1,
BOAC reintroduced jet services in October 1958 with
the Comet 4, first-ever transatlantic jet service
NAT Region
The continuous increase in air traffic was not only observed in the EU R Region but affected also North Atlantic operations, so much, so that, by 1956, a special NAT Regional Air Navigation Meeting was held in the Paris Office which dealt mainly with communications and air traffic control questions. Its main results were a number of improvements to the ground-ground and air-ground communication provisions to allow a better flow of traffic data and the formulation of more precise provisions regarding the application of separation between flights operating over the North Atlantic. 

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