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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

FAA, Eurocontrol Favor Involving Airspace Users in ATM Operations

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Magazine 04-20-2016] During the opening plenary session at the 2016 Integrated Communications Navigation and Surveillance (ICNS) conference, FAA Chief NextGen Scientist Steve Bradford talked about how newer technologies and concepts such as the iPad and System Wide Information Management (SWIM) can lead to less reliance upon Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) for all things related to flight operations in the near future. Both Bradford and Phillippe Merlo, director of Air Traffic Management (ATM) for Eurocontrol, stressed to the ICNS conference attendees that the concept of operations for SWIM will be essential in providing more opportunities for airspace users to influence decision making for airspace operations. 
iPad weather radar technology from Foreflight. Photo: Foreflight.
"Up until now, all of our concepts have been about good behavior by the ANSPs," said Bradford, referring to the modernization of ATM technology occurring under NextGen in the United States, Single European Sky in Europe, Collaborative Actions for Renovation of Air Traffic Systems (CARATS) in Japan, and other similar programs around the world. 
Bradford's speech put an emphasis on slightly changing the way aviation stakeholders think about airspace systems modernization. He stressed that stakeholders need to get away from focusing solely on the technologies and tools ANSPs use, and start to think more about the tools that are available to airspace users today. 
"How many people think that FlightAware uses the FAA feed for where the traffic is? They’re out there listening themselves. Domestically, there’s ubiquitous information available about where aircraft are, and it doesn’t always involve the ANSP … It’s time to start thinking about: What do we do when the information is ubiquitous?" he said.
The Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) recently completed a demonstration that reflects the exact concept of operations to which Bradford is referring. In March, SESAR JU completed the User-Driven Prioritization Process (UDPP) exercise, held at Eurocontrol's headquarters, demonstrating the concepts of Fleet Delay Appointment (FDA) and Selective Flight Protection (SFP). 
According to SESAR JU, the exercise featured a simulated flight operations environment using a Sabre UDPP prototype and an adaptation of the Eurocontrol Airport/Air Port Operations Center (APOC) gaming platform developed by Airbus Defense and Space.  
“Flight operations personnel manned desks emulating major hub, regional and low cost airline operations. A number of delay scenarios covering departure and arrival situations at a major airport were used. The tools enabled participants to assign priorities, perform a what-if analysis of delay times and delay costs, and to suspend less-important flights in order to promote more important ones,” SESAR JU explained in a statement surrounding the study.
The exercise reflects the type of approach to flight operations modernization that Bradford was referring to at ICNS. Giving airspace users the opportunity to collaborate more with the ANSP, instead of strictly focusing on receiving orders and changes to airspace operations from the ANSP. The concept allows airspace users to have more influence in the real-time decision-making process that has to occur when unexpected events such as severe weather or equipment failure cause delays.
During the question and answer session of the Plenary, Merlo spoke to about how Europe is also looking to increasingly involve airspace users in the decision-making process for airspace system operations. 
"If we share more information we also have to share the decision. This is something that we’re promoting in Europe; we call it collaborative decision-making. In fact it is already in place on the biggest departures," said Merlo. "This concept of collaborative decision-making, the objective is to extend it to all the phases of the flight, including the en route phase for gate-to-gate trajectories. I think it is possible and I think provides a lot of added value. Extend the collaborative decision-making, involve the airlines, involve the airports, and the ANSP, in the collaborative decision-making process.”
Bradford also pointed to all of the capabilities that have been given to airspace users with the continued evolution of the iPad. More recently, several companies have introduced applications that help the tablet go beyond being used strictly as an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), to becoming more of a tool that reflects traditional functionality reserved for hardwired cockpit avionics technology. 
"With [the iPad] people in the flight deck can get all the information they want in the world all the time. They don’t have to rely on us to send up a limited bit of information on a VDL Mode 2 low bandwidth link, they can get it from anywhere ... Do we only have to count on the ANSPs? Can we in the SWIM environment do much, much more?" said Bradford.
Several conference attendees asked about what role ANSPs should focus on going forward, and Bradford was quick to point out that he is not advocating a replacement of the ANSP in the traditional sense. 

"I’m not suggesting that we replace the ANSP, I’m suggesting that we use other sources to [help] the ANSP, so they can do their job a little bit better," he said. 

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