Formation flying: ATM panel discussion20 February 2013
Upgrading air traffic management systems to improve performance, efficiency and interoperability is one of the major challenges facing global aviation industry stakeholders. Jack Wittels asks Alexis Brathwaite of IFATCA, American Airlines’ Jeff Osborne and John Vincent of EASA for their opinions on the best way to move forward.
Could you outline the key benefits and challenges of increased airspace interoperability for airlines, airports and air passengers?
Alexis Brathwaite: Effective global interoperability is standardisation at a functional level, instead of at an equipment level. This means that interoperability will not necessarily be a 'single (technology) system'. Standardised functionality will allow implementation of evolving technology, and can be more cost-effective than mandating a single technology.
The big challenge will be defining the functions required to enable global interoperability. The major benefits will be meeting the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) objective for a global framework that ensures safety is maintained and enhanced, ATM improvement programmes are harmonised, and that barriers to future efficiency and environmental gains are removed at reasonable cost.
Jeff Osbourne: The benefits [of increased airspace interoperability] include: a seamless ATC experience from origin to destination that assures common procedures, standards, equipage, efficiency and performance; enhanced service continuity during disruptions where adjoining ANSPs can assist where needed; a common set of performance and safety metrics; lower costs and user fees; and standardised training programmes for ANSPs and users.
The challenges include concerns over airspace sovereignty, access to military airspace when available and rational ANSP user charges.
John Vincent: The 12th Air Navigation Conference promoted the concept of 'One Sky' for international civil aviation. In Europe, we have a roadmap in the form of the European ATM Master Plan. Now, we face the challenges of integration, interoperability and the harmonisation of systems in order to support these concepts and plans. Success should remedy the capacity bottlenecks, improve efficiency and meet safety objectives. For the future, the travelling public should see on-time, sustainable and safe growth in the air transport system.
Why is developing interoperability between Europe and other continents such an important issue?
AB: Enhanced safety and efficiency are at stake here. There is significant growth in passenger traffic and development of airports in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Managing these developments through a global framework that ensures interoperability will ensure that we do not lose any of the hard-fought gains in safety and efficiency. It is important that the system evolves to deliver predictably consistent and agreed performance.
It is important to remember that an airline is a business for which sustainability and profitability are important - with the important caveat that safety is fundamental.
JO: According to International Monetary Fund estimates, the economic growth rate in Latin America stands at 4% in 2013, which suggests a growing air travel market that will inevitably lead to capacity challenges in the region.
A safe, efficient and cost-effective air traffic environment will help the region maximise its economic growth potential.
JV: Long-term interoperability planning is addressed in the draft fourth edition of the ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan (Doc 9750, GANP). Its importance is that it will help the development and deployment of systems that can interoperate safely. Without the standards and regulations needed to make this happen, the promise of the concept of a global 'One Sky' and a 'Single European Sky' cannot be delivered.
How will next-generation ATM programmes such as NextGen and SESAR impact regional ATM operations in Europe?
AB: Traditionally, there is a significant lag between the use of new technologies by developed and developing states. However, the average age of the aircraft fleet in Latin America is reportedly between five and nine years. This means that many airlines in Latin America are more than ready to make use of NextGen technologies. Thus, Latin America may prove to be a driver of, rather than a barrier to, NextGen.
JV: Improving ATM performance is one of the keystones of the Single European Sky (SES) initiative. SESAR and NextGen offer a means to address the needs of the European and US air transport system. This impacts all aviation stakeholders and thus goes beyond the normal realm of ATM. The development of standards, regulatory measures, procedures and technology should involve all aviation stakeholders.
What core benefits do block upgrades offer airports, airlines and air passengers?
AB: The objective of the block upgrades is predictable, harmonised implementation of the Global Aviation Plan. This means that aviation developments ought to be implemented in the most efficient manner in a collaborative environment. If this is achieved, the needs of the airports airlines and air passengers will be met by the most cost-effective means.
JO: The block upgrades provide a logical and predictable roadmap to ensure all stakeholders receive maximum benefit from the infrastructure investments required. Airports will see increased throughput and lower carbon emissions, airlines will reduce fuel consumption and disruption costs, and the passengers will depart and arrive according to their expectations when their journey was booked.
JV: The European ATM Master Plan sets out a number of performance needs and targets. A three-fold increase in capacity is one of the main aims; reducing environmental impact is another. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) works to ensure that continuous safety improvements are also achieved. That's why the European Aviation Safety Programme is such an important part of the complete approach to modernisation.
What do you perceive as the greatest challenges to implementing block upgrades?
AB: I believe the greatest challenge will be overcoming the self-interest of each stakeholder. The block upgrades do not present many new concepts for blocks 0 and 1. This is basically a repackaging of what has already been agreed, but in a manner that seeks to foster more effective implementation.
JO: Significant challenges to achieving the block upgrades include availability of capital, institutional and political perseverance, and the flexibility to adapt to changing economic and technological conditions as the process matures.
JV: Achieving continuous safety improvements while implementing complex new automated systems will be difficult. The aviation system block upgrades (ASBU) will be reviewed periodically. One of the big challenges will be ensuring that there is feedback from the lessons learned during implementation.
Are national governments, and regulators such as the ICAO, a help or a hindrance when it comes to ASBU?
AB: Regulators are the key drivers of the process. Starting with the ICAO, they must promote the process, identify and overcome obstacles, and generate creative and flexible mechanisms for implementation.
JO: Regulatory bodies should be willing and able to quickly adapt to new technologies and performance standards, allowing the air traffic community to innovate, while protecting the safety interests of the public.
JV: The ICAO has a key global role in providing the template for the aviation system block upgrades (ASBU). As I said earlier, without the European standards and regulations needed to make the plan happen, the promise of a 'Single European Sky' cannot be delivered. In this regard, EASA has a pivotal role to play.
In your view, how will smaller nations with limited resources handle the challenges of SES and ASBU regulations?
AB: SES and ASBU do not include greater regulations than are now required; limited resources will always be a challenge. However, the packaging of SES and ASBU may allow these states to link their national aviation plans more closely to regional and international aviation plans.
JO: Smaller nations should be able to rely on larger entities such as the FAA and EUROCONTROL for their enroute framework, and focus their resources on improvements to airports and terminal airspace infrastructure.
JV: EASA works closely with all aviation stakeholders. That said, the member states, small or large, have a unique role in making European regulations.
What review systems are currently in place for national supervisory authorities (NSAs)? Could their performance be improved?
AB: Air navigation services are always under scrutiny. The problem is that we have not yet devised the best means of measuring effectiveness. This will no doubt evolve in time.
JV: Supporting the European NSAs will be a growing part of EASA's role.
Why do you feel ATC Global is a good forum for encouraging this kind of participation and furthering discussions on the topic?
AB: Over the years, ATC Global has attracted a very diverse audience from all regions, with participation from developing and developing states. If this level of participation continues it will remain an effective forum.
JO: ATC Global is a good forum because all users in the aviation community come together to discuss areas of common interest, allowing participants to establish new relationships for continuing interaction after the conference.
JV: Bringing together all aviation stakeholders is a way of synchronising thinking on these complex topics. Networking helps build a common understanding of the global and regional plans. Let's hope ATC Global provides that opportunity.
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