But Eurocontrol Director-General Yves Lambert denies it is a case of “too many cooksspoiling the broth”, adding: “These parallel institutional exercises are not inconsistent with each other. They are complementary and are going on in an atmosphere of positive dialogue.”Traffic has increased by an average of 8% per month during most of 1996. But Lambert believes Eurocontrol’s central flow management unit has handled expansion extremely efficiently, arguing that harmonisation of ATM under the amusingly-titled EATCHIP system has headed off the danger of “total disorder”.But the basic problems caused by the growth of air traffic can only really be dealt with by increasing capacity, an option which is politically difficult.Both the Commission and ECAC have made Eurocontrol a central pillar of their approach to the situation and Eurocontrol officials, aware that they need to follow the will of their political masters, have no problem with Commission involvement in its structure.But Commission officials, who expect a proposal to update the 30-year-old Eurocontrol Convention to be ready next month, are clear that their preferred model for the future differs from that of ECAC. The Directorate-General for transport (DGVII) is keen to establish an EU negotiating position to give it added bargaining power in final talks within the ECAC.The Commission also warns against Eurocontrol maintaining too great a hold over both the institutional and operational sides of ATM.Some EU member states, including the UK, France and Portugal, are less enthusiastic about the Commission getting in on the decision-making act. The solution is less obvious and, at first sight, the amount of work currently under way on the future of European Air Traffic Management (ATM) looks likely to muddy the waters still further.In the light of evidence that 18% of European flights were delayed by more than 15 minutes in 1995, Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock has suggested giving the Commission a more central role in ATM by making it a fully-fledged member of Eurocontrol (the European organisation for the safety of air navigation), which has 22 members from within and outside the EU.Elsewhere, the 33-member European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) has been working on a number of models for the future of ATM, initially under the acronym INSTAR and latterly INSTRAT. The Commission suggests a new definition of the term “new entrant”, which could be reserved for carriers with no presence at an airport, allowing them to benefit from priority allocation of new slots. Alternatively, the term could include carriers with a specified percentage of slots on a particular day.“This would increase the number of new entrants compared with the present possibilities and give a preference to a third operator on a route and therefore maintain competition,” says the Commission.Efforts are being made to ensure that new entrants are offered high-quality slots, rather than the commercially unattractive ones which have traditionally been their lot. A recent report from the UK’s House of Lords summed up their concerns, claiming this would merely add another layer of bureaucracy to a system already creaking under the shortfalls in capacity.Their feelings were echoed by the Association of European Airlines (AEA), which expressed disappointment with Kinnock’s White Paper, claiming that “without proper analysis, it jumps to the least satisfying solution – that is the Community joining the Eurocontrol Convention”.AEA chairman Dr Herbert Bammer sounds a stark warning. “If the civil servants find cause to reject what the whole community of civil airspace users has proposed, they had better be ready to explain their decision to the airlines and their hard-pressed customers.”Hand in hand with the evident headaches involved in controlling the flow of aircraft in the air, the surge in traffic has extended the system of slot allocation to breaking point.With three-quarters of Europe’s international routes already congested and 15 more airports expected to be full by the millennium, the Commission is finalising plans for reform.The system is now so stretched that new entrants often find themselves with no access to some of the world’s busiest airports.A Commission paper currently nearing completion suggests changes to the 1993 regulation, including a minimum aircraft size, a system to cap the frequency of flights and a “market mechanism” for allocating slots which could see precious take-off and landing times going to the highest bidder.