While operators and industry in the United States are coming to terms with the transformation of air traffic management embodied in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), their European counterparts are preparing for an equivalent revolution under the Single European Sky (SES) initiative and the associated Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) development effort.
At the heart of both is the concept of performance-based navigation (PBN), which seeks to make ATM much more efficient by making the best of the performance potential of modern aircraft. While all operators, from major airlines with large fleets to the smallest business and general aviation concerns with just one aircraft, stand to benefit, the business aviation community is anxious to ensure it is not hampered by requirements to equip with expensive and inappropriate avionics.
Launched by the European Commission in 2004, the Single European Sky is an ambitious initiative that is taking a legislative approach to meet future capacity and safety needs at a European, rather than a national level. The performance targets include a threefold increase in capacity, a 10-fold improvement in safety, a 10 percent reduction in environmental impact and a 50 percent reduction in air-traffic management costs, all to be achieved by 2020.
Meeting these targets will take more than legislation; it will also require a major technological effort with cooperation between aircraft operators, avionics suppliers, air-traffic management service providers and other stakeholders. This is the mission of the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU), which was created under European Community law in February 2007 to manage the program’s development phase. Founding members Eurocontrol and the European Community have been joined in the SJU by 16 partners whose members, affiliates and subcontractors bring more than 70 companies from 18 countries into SESAR. SJU partners include Honeywell, Thales, Alenia Aeronautica, Airbus, air navigation service providers and airport operators.
The SESAR definition phase ran from 2005 through 2008 and resulted in the SESAR ATM master plan. The €2.1 billion development phase, which extends to 2013, is designed to deliver the technology components and operational procedures defined in the master plan. The deployment phase, which is scheduled for 2014 to 2020, will see the large-scale production and implementation of the new ATM infrastructure.
The program schedule was set to cope with predicted growth in European air traffic. According to Eurocontrol, the region will see a doubling in movements to around 20.4 million by 2030. More efficient ATM will save between eight and 14 minutes per flight, between 300 and 500 kg of fuel and between 945 and 1,575 kg of carbon dioxide emissions, according to estimates published by the SESAR JU. In addition, operators and passengers will benefit from direct gate-to-gate routings.
Time, fuel and CO2 savings will come from an air-traffic management concept and optimized avionics that will allow aircraft to use their most efficient flight profiles, including climb, cruise and idle descent. In parallel, very precise, satellite-based navigation with high integrity promises to increase capacity by opening up many more airfields that now lack suitable approach aids.
This will have impacts across Europe and beyond for years to come, according to Flavio Fusco, Selex Galileo program manager for strategy and chief technology officer for EU and international projects.
“In a sense, the future avionics market will see a confrontation between SESAR-compliant avionics systems and all the others,” Fusco said. “Consider, for instance, one of the key changes foreseen by SESAR the switch from airspace-based operations to trajectory-based operations. To make this change possible, the aircraft shall be equipped with avionics able to process and exchange real-time trajectory data with the other ATM actors. This means enhanced FMS (flight management system) processing power, new functions, data formats and communication flows. Of course, all this will impact avionics, both hardware and software. The avionics will provide new functions, such as exchanging navigation data with other ATM actors via ADS-B In and Out, processing trajectory descriptions in FMS, and supporting pilots’ situational awareness with cockpit enhancements.”
Business aircraft often have higher performance and more sophisticated avionics than airliners. (For instance, Honeywell’s Epic integrated avionics system flew for the first time in an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter and soon afterward in a business jet.) Additionally, many business aircraft have head-up displays, almost all have advanced electronic cockpits, and many larger aircraft have enhanced vision systems.
But business aircraft are generally smaller than airliners and are therefore vulnerable to their wake turbulence. The SES could help business aircraft exploit their performance advantages to the full while staying out of trouble if the legislation is framed appropriately.
Brian Humphries is the president of the Brussels-based European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), which gives operators a collective voice with Europe’s regulators. The EBAA signed on with the SESAR JU in September 2009.
“We are in very good shape in terms of avionics capability compared with some of the old 767s and 757s that are still flying,” Humphries said of business aircraft operators. “We are very excited about what the Single European Sky offers. Satellite-based approaches will be a huge benefit to our sector in that they will offer Cat 1 approaches to even basically equipped aircraft at any airfield in Europe. Plus, if we then operate to those airfields with aircraft equipped with enhanced vision systems, we can actually operate to Cat 2.”
Releasing a vast number of new airfields for all weather operations is probably the most exciting element of the SES initiative, according to Humphries, but there are other aspects that engage his enthusiasm, particularly those that allow business aircraft to use their performance to the fullest.
“It offers scope for us to be managed slightly differently,” he said. “For example, it would be perfectly possible for us to fly a steep approach where others are flying shallow approaches and therefore we could avoid the wake vortex issue altogether.”
While excited by the potential of the SES, Humphries emphasized that there are possible pitfalls for business aviation. “What we want to avoid is equipment requirements that are not suitable for our sort of aircraft,” he warned. “In particular, we need to have relatively simple, lightweight equipment.”
Nevertheless, the business aviation community acknowledges it will have to invest in new avionics. “In particular, the Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) is crucial, and we are going to have to have the equipment to use it,” Humphries said.
However, he implied the value of some other requirements is not so clear-cut.
“We are very worried about datalink requirements because we don’t think they are going to do much in the longer term,” he said. “We don’t see them as essential to the Single European Sky, and yet at the moment they are going to be mandated for embodiment at great expense.
“In terms of ADS-B, we need Europe to adopt solutions adapted to all sectors within aviation, from air transport to light aviation, and covering the needs of all the airspace from en-route to TMA of small airports,” Humphries said. “We can cite Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) technology as an appropriate system that meets the requirements for ADS-B In and Out that could be applied to business aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing. We are working closely with the helicopter people as well. Often the requirements of business aviation and helicopters are very much the same.
“Again, with a slightly bigger voice working together, we can make sure that the small end of the market is protected in terms of avionic requirements.”
And, it is not only airlines that will have to invest to meet the demands of the new ATM environment. Industry has been reaching into its pockets for years now to develop systems for NextGen and the SES. In March, Eurocontrol and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced an ATM navigation and safety partnership, aimed at advancing the SES cause.
The navigation portion of the partnership will include efforts to speed up the performance-based navigation program to make better use of enroute and terminal airspace. With regard to safety, the groups will promote voluntary ATM incident reporting and data collection.
“The Single European Sky creates a major opportunity for the ATM industry to work much closer together than today, resulting in better targeting, synergies and major savings. I am convinced that partnerships between various stakeholders are a must, at national as well as international levels,” said David McMillan, director general of Eurocontrol.
Avionics manufacturers envision the Implementation Phase One timescale (2013 to 2020) of SESAR bringing new demands in terms of datalink, Required Navigation Performance (RNP), ADS-B and Required Time of Arrival (RTA) capability for flight management systems.
Robert Ellis, Rockwell Collins director of products and systems marketing, said this time period is likely to see the implementation of the first ADS-B In applications for aircraft. However, “I would characterize the area of the largest change as the transition to datalink, both from a corporate aircraft perspective and for main line operators in Europe,” Ellis said, referring to Europe’s Link 2000+ controller pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) program. “Very, very few corporate aircraft are equipped with datalink capability today, with the exception mainly of the ultra-long-range aircraft, which have tended to have a datalink function for the last five years at least.”
Europe has mandated the use of Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) CPDLC for all new aircraft (forward fit) delivered after Jan. 1, 2011. By 2015, all aircraft operating in the core of Europe will be required to have datalink communications capability. The baseline for the datalink will be the ATN protocol, however, there are provisions to allow the use of FANS-1/A during a transition period that has not yet been defined.
“That protected mode CPDLC/ATN is a very difficult thing to implement. All the aircraft will have to conform to it and, currently, it is only really being put in communication management units that are provided by us and by Honeywell,” said Arnold Oldach, Rockwell Collins principal technical marketing manager.
From the perspective of datalink component suppliers, the mandate presents a challenge to provide equipment to the market.
“That level of implementation and the requirements for ATN are going to force business and regional aircraft to implement systems that are similar to those that we put on air transport category aircraft. And there really is nothing we can do as a vendor to get away from that. There is not a low-cost, small box that will satisfy that, because you need a VHF data radio. But we do have a small form factor one for the business and regional aircraft,” Oldach added.
“Then you need a communication management unit that supports these protocols and messages and they have to be exactly the same for all aircraft types,” Oldach said. “And, yes, the burden will be greater for the business and regional operators, in proportion, than it will be for the air transport operators.”
The pilot interface will also be affected, Oldach said.
“Many of the business and regional aircraft have proprietary control and display units, smaller ones with small input keys. The (SESAR-compliant) communications management units use the ARINC 739 standard, and these multifunction control and display units tend to be larger and more expensive. In trying to retrofit smaller aircraft we are going to face some interesting challenges.”
The ADS-B requirement is less cumbersome, Oldach and Ellis said, because in many cases making an aircraft ADS-B compliant requires only a software upgrade to the transponder. However, many aircraft that are eight to 10 years old or more will probably have to change their GPS sensors, Oldach said.
Although industry faces extra costs in integrating SESAR-compliant avionics into more than 40 business aircraft types, there is no reason, Fusco believes, that avionics should be prohibitively expensive for business aircraft.
“One of the very points of SESAR is that the final balance is expected to be positive,” Fusco said.
“From the aircraft point of view, we may just consider the cumulative economic advantage of reduced flight duration, fuel consumption and emissions, as well as increased customer satisfaction and all this for each flight.”
GPS-based navigation and surveillance are the “face of NextGen” for general aviation pilots, according to a representative of the 414,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in the United States.
Craig Spence, AOPA vice president for Government Affairs, said 73 percent of the association’s members report using GPS as their predominant method of navigation.
This supports the case that FAA should provide incentives for GA pilots to equip for GPS-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) position reporting to have wider access to NextGen airspace, said Spence, speaking April 7 at the RTCA Spring Symposium in Washington, D.C. “For AOPA members, ADS-B is the face of NextGen,” Spence told the audience.