25 years of ensuring safety in Germany’s skies

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since its foundation, the German air navigation service provider has controlled 67.2 million flights. Last year, DFS set a new record when it handled more than 3.2 million flights.

02.01.2018.- In Germany, a new chapter in the history of air traffic control began in 1993. That was the year DFS was founded as a private limited company that is wholly owned by the Federal Republic of Germany. In the previous 40 years, air traffic had been controlled by a government agency, the Federal Administration of Air Navigation Services. This reorganisation of air traffic control in Germany has proved a success in many ways. “It was the right decision to establish DFS as a private limited company. This construct provided the flexibility needed to handle the expected growth rates in air traffic back then,” explained DFS CEO Klaus-Dieter Scheurle. “DFS has become well known across the globe as a leader in safety, competence, performance and effectiveness.”

Twice as much air traffic 25 years later
DFS is responsible for the safe, expeditious and punctual handling of air traffic in Germany. At the same time, it has to take environmental concerns into account, such as implementing measures to limit aircraft noise. The company operates control centres in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich as well as control towers at 16 international airports in Germany. Air navigation charges are the main source of the company’s income. Together with its commercial business subsidiary, DFS earned EUR 1.2 billion in 2016.

The volume of air traffic has increased dramatically since the company was founded. In 1993, DFS controlled 1.8 million flights. This figure has nearly doubled in the meantime. In 2017, over 3.2 million flights were recorded in German airspace – more than ever before. At the same time, DFS can be proud of its immaculate safety record over these 25 years. “We are proud to provide such a consistently high safety standard in one of the world’s most complex airspaces,” said CEO Scheurle. “This clearly demonstrates the quality of our air traffic controllers' work, our excellent training standards and our advanced and reliable technology.”

Five billion passengers arrived safely
In the 25 years of its existence, DFS has helped to ensure that more than five billion passengers reached their destinations safely. This was only possible by having very qualified personnel. Since the company was founded, some 2,300 air traffic controllers have been trained at its Air Navigation Services Academy. To find suitable candidates for this demanding profession, DFS had to process around 70,000 applications over the past 25 years. The demand for young air traffic controllers remains high today. To cope with traffic growth in the coming years, 120 air traffic controllers will begin their training this year. Similar training levels are planned for the next few years.

In addition to human resources, the company also invests in state-of-the-art air traffic control systems and infrastructure. In late 2017, the DFS upper area control centre in Karlsruhe was outfitted with a new air traffic control system called iCAS. It is faster and more powerful than its predecessor and is now being introduced successively at all DFS control centres. Furthermore, the company is currently updating and modernising its radar facilities and navigation aids as well as its aeronautical radio communications infrastructure.

Pioneer of civil-military cooperation
When it was founded, DFS also took over regional military air traffic control besides the provision of air traffic control to civil aircraft. In peacetime, DFS controls military flight operations. The German Air Force only provides control at its air bases and for tactical exercises. Otherwise, military and civil flights are controlled by the same controller. DFS was the pioneer of this kind of civil-military integration in Europe. When the Air Force does not need military training areas, they are made available to civil aviation. This flexible use of airspace has helped to create the room needed for the enormous growth in traffic over the past 25 years.

The European challenge
The Single European Sky (SES) initiative, launched by the European Commission in 2004, has brought about many changes for the company. Specifically, Europe-wide performance targets for safety, capacity, environment and cost-efficiency have been in place since 2012. DFS no longer bases the level of air navigation service charges on costs actually incurred, but has since set them based on forecast traffic figures covering a specific period of time.

DFS has reacted to these changed conditions. “We have developed a broad-based strategy under our ‘five-point programme’. Measures to create a truly excellent corporate culture play a central role here, because the motivation of our employees is of utmost importance,” said Scheurle.

New technology, new business opportunities
To increase productivity and capacity, DFS relies on advanced technology. One measure is the new air traffic control system iCAS. A further measure is the current development of a remote tower control system which will enable DFS to control air traffic at its three smallest airports– Saarbrücken, Erfurt and Dresden – remotely. In future, DFS should be able to control air traffic at these airports from its Leipzig location. DFS has also reduced the number of its employees by 700 to 5,400. “Since air traffic is an international business that is strongly influenced by the EU, our strategy also relies on the optimum integration of the company into the legal and technological developments in Europe relevant to air traffic control,” explained Scheurle.

Another component of the five-point programme is the expansion of the company’s commercial business. At the beginning of 2017, DFS merged its commercial businesses into one company and founded the subsidiary DFS Aviation Services GmbH (DAS). DAS markets the company's products and know-how worldwide and is responsible for air traffic control at nine German regional airports. Since the spring of 2016, the British subsidiary Air Navigation Solutions Ltd. has been responsible for the provision of air navigation services at London's second largest airport Gatwick. In April 2018, the company will take over air traffic control at Edinburgh Airport.

Continuity and innovation remain success factors
For the CEO of DFS, continuity and innovation remain the decisive factors needed for success. They are the framework within which the company will continue to orientate itself in the future. “The DFS Group is well positioned in this respect. We have launched many measures to secure our future viability. In terms of technology, I think we are well prepared for the requirements of the coming years. And I am confident that we at DFS are prepared to meet the new challenges, such as the ongoing digitisation and automation that are expected in aviation. We are and will remain a respected leader in technology among air navigation service providers while meeting all national and international requirements,” said Scheurle.

Media contact:
Kristina Kelek
Telephone: +49 (0) 6103 707-4161

Ute Otterbein
Telephone: +49 (0) 6103 707-4162

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A short history of DFS.

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH
, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,400 employees as at 30 September 2017. 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, 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 control towers at 16 international airports in Germany. The subsidiary, DFS Aviation Services GmbH, markets and sells products and services related to air navigation services, and provides air traffic control at nine regional airports in Germany and at London Gatwick Airport in the UK.