DFS on the road to success

Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, the Chairman and CEO of DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, gives a positive report on the year 2015

13.04.2016.- DFS concluded the past business year 2015 with good results and thus was able to continue the positive development of the previous year. For the first time since 2011, the number of aircraft movements in German airspace exceeded the three million mark. In 2015, DFS air traffic controllers handled a total of 3,029,066 IFR flights, which corresponds to a 1.6-percent increase over the previous year. In this connection, the DFS group with its approximately 5,700 staff generated revenues of EUR 1.242 billion according to the IFRS accounting standards. This was an increase of 8.7 percent  compared to the previous year (EUR 1.142 billion). Significant growth factors for German air traffic came from low fuel prices and the dynamism of the low-cost sector. The DFS profit for the financial year amounted to EUR 122.4 million (previous year: EUR 34.9 billion).

"The year 2015 showed that our strategy is on the right track. Our measures to optimise costs and revenues are working as planned. There is no alternative because of the situation with the company pension scheme. Due to the low interest rates on the market, we are unable to compensate these obligations by return on plan assets. With a shortfall of roughly EUR 1.7 billion, this will be true for an indefinite period of time, as long as interest rates remain at the current level," explained Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, Chairman and CEO at the annual DFS press conference in Langen.

DFS – safe, efficient and even more punctual

DFS also achieved a positive result in its core competence areas. With regard to the safety indicators, DFS was able to maintain the very high safety standard of the previous years. For en-route flight efficiency and punctuality, it even increased its levels. In 2015, 98.2 percent of all flights reached their destination without any delays caused by air traffic control (previous year: 97.7 percent) – this is a new record, not only in Germany but also compared to the rest of Europe. In absolute figures, this means that in 2015, the average delay, for example due to bad weather, capacity bottlenecks at airports or high traffic volume was 19.2 seconds in German airspace. Only about eight seconds of these were caused by air navigation services. Direct routings played a major role in this. In this regard, DFS controllers were again exemplary: In 2015, the flown route was, on average, only 3.8 km longer than the direct route, which corresponds to a deviation of only 1.2 percent. This is a value that hardly can be improved in Germany which has one of the busiest and most complex airspaces in the world.

Objectives 2016: Increasing income, reducing costs

"These reliable and high-quality services are now expected from us in England, too." This is what the DFS CEO said when the DFS subsidiary Air Navigation Solutions Ltd. took over aerodrome control services at London Gatwick Airport on 1 March 2016. DFS aims at increasing its income by expanding its non-regulated business to other countries under the quality label "Made in Germany". The establishment of local offices in Singapore, Beijing and the Middle East are a special focus of this expansion.
For the business year 2016, DFS expects a difficult market despite the general upward trend in air transport. According to Mr Scheurle, it will hardly be possible to increase income from the regulated core business on the domestic market. Staff costs are being reduced by means of natural staff turnover. The staff headcount has fallen from 6,100 at the end of 2013 to currently about 5,700.

In order to cut costs and raise revenues, the DFS Board of Managing Directors is focusing on progress in efficiency and quality by using new technologies, more automation as well as process optimisation.

The iCAS system of DFS, for example, is a new operations system. Thanks to its high level of automation, it will enhance the safety and efficiency of air traffic management in complex and busy airspaces. The aim is to operate all four control centres using the same technological platform.

Remote Tower Control is another state-of-the-art programme at DFS. It will enable the relocation of the aerodrome control services of the airports of Saarbrücken, Dresden and Erfurt to one location in Leipzig.

The project Sectorless Air Traffic Management may introduce another novelty. Future plans are for one air traffic controller to be responsible for several flights through the entire airspace and not only for one sector. This new procedure is scheduled to become operational in low-traffic airspaces in 2020/2021. Aircraft will no longer be handed over from one sector to another but will be guided through the airspace by one controller. This new method is expected to yield significant capacity and efficiency improvements. It is a paradigm shift in the world of air traffic control and therefore has attracted international attention.

In the opinion of the DFS CEO, the developments in the field of drone technology are to be seen both as a challenge and an opportunity with respect to safety and market potential. DFS has been involved in numerous research projects for many years and Mr Scheurle sees the company as a driver for integrating this technology into air traffic in a safe and fair manner. Drone registration and licensing of drone pilots are only two fields of activity where DFS intends to contribute its core competencies in this highly dynamic market.

"The main aspect, however, will always be safety," emphasised Mr Scheurle. "Our major task is and remains ensuring the safety of aircraft in the air and on the ground. We will continue to provide optimum services to all of our customers to support them in their endeavours. At the same time, we would like to share our expertise for the benefit of this development." 

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,650 employees as at 31 December 2015. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,000 air traffic controllers guide up to 10,000 flights in German airspace every day, and about three million movements every year. This makes Germany the country with the highest traffic volume in Europe. The company operates control centres in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich as well as 16 control towers at international airports in Germany. In addition, DFS is represented at the EUROCONTROL Control Centre in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Additional areas of activity include consulting, provided by the Aeronautical Solutions division, and aeronautical data, grouped in the Aeronautical Information Management division.