[Avionics Today Feb. 14, 2014] Europe features one of the most congested and complex airspaces in the world, with 28 different major airspace navigation service providers managing 26,000 flights per day. The EU is trying to ease that congestion with its Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) project, which is now entering the deployment phase.
Michael Standar, Chief Strategies and International Relations, SESAR JU. Photo, courtesy of SESAR JU.
SESAR shares some similarities with the NextGen project in play in the U.S., but the overarching goal is much different. According to a recent report by the European People’s Party (EPP) group, one of the main goals for SESAR is reducing the number of zones of major Air Traffic Control (ATC) centers from 29 to nine, so that aircraft can fly more direct routes, instead of constantly changing centers even on short haul routes.
For example, the Brussels, Germany to Geneva, France route, an 80-minute flight, transfers pilots to five different national ATC centers. EPP estimates airlines spent an extra $4 billion in fuel costs on extra routing in 2011. The independent ATM authorities across Europe's 44 states have a tough task though, to maintain the traffic within their legacy system while shifting to the more centralized structure.
This process involves airspace users testing out new landing approaches and flight procedures. An example is the testing of Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS) landing approaches at Frankfurt and Toulouse-Blagnac Airports, which represents the SESAR program's goal of replacing legacy Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches with satellite based approaches at airports throughout Europe.
Michael Standar, the chief of strategies and external relations at the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU), during a recent interview with Avionics magazine said that cooperation with the U.S. and its progress on NextGen and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has been critical to SESAR's progress thus far and will continue to be as the program goes forward.
Standar said that ICAO has been helpful in advising both the U.S. and Europe that they "share a responsibility to work together with the rest of the world on global interoperability because at the end of the day, aircraft cannot keep different boxes or equipment because they fly all over."
According to Standar, the SESAR program's original goal was for a definition phase followed by a development phase and a deployment phase. In the last phase the aviation industry itself would be able to begin proposing its own standards and take more of the burden of the modernization process upon itself.
"I think we realized that to transform an ATM system which has been working in splendid isolation for so many years in terms of airlines flying aircraft, airports operating airports and ANSPs doing air traffic, there's a slight delay of coming to that type of maturity," said Standar.
Standar also discussed future airspace mandates, such as the SESAR goal of deploying Automatic Dependent Service Broadcast (ADS-B) throughout the European ATM network, a process that involves airspace users modernizing existing aircraft or purchasing new aircraft — the majority of which are equipped with standard avionics systems that feature ADS-B capability.
Instead of hard-line mandates, Standar believes SESAR's main goal is to implement infrastructure and standards that provide the best business case for upgrading to support modernization.
"The mandate here on ADS-B service is very much around the 1090 extended to have the avionics onboard to transmit to the ground systems their positions in a better accuracy than before. So we've got a mandate but its not necessarily SESAR related," said Standar. "I think where we're moving with SESAR right now is that we've been trying to move towards standards and get the community to see how this benefits their businesses. I think the line we're trying to take now is that we don't necessarily need mandates because if we provide standards and a good business case and the good CBA they should deploy anyway."
Airspace users are heavily involved in the move towards the Single European Sky as well. For example, the Lufthansa Group released a statement in mid-January stating that its airlines are currently involved in more than 50 SESAR projects. Since mid-2013, under the Free Route Airspace Maastricht & Karlsruhe (FRAMaK) SESAR demonstration project, 199 new direct routings have become available in the upper airspace over Germany, Benelux and parts of the North Sea resulting in fuel savings. An average 229 Lufthansa flights per day use those new routes to achieve fuel savings.
That level of involvement from airspace users in assisting with establishing new routes and flight procedures will be critical towards the future of the Single European Sky program too. This week the European Commission concludes its public consultation phase involving the European aviation community's comments regarding the establishment of the Pilot Common Project, which contains the first set of ATM functionalities which, having completed their research, development and validation cycle, have demonstrated their readiness for deployment.
SESAR JU also recently published specifications for its call for 20 large scale demonstration activities, looking at improving traffic flows into small and medium-sized airports, as well as produce solutions for global interoperability. The group also announced publication of the call for tender on the definition phase of the integration of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) into the European Aviation System and ATM.
Europe is slightly ahead of the United States regarding RPA integration in its relation to their modernization programs of NextGen and SESAR. Whereas the U.S. recently announced its first two commercial RPAS certificates and six test sites for the commercial use of RPAS, Europe are demonstrating current on-going activities and will begin the definition phase on how to integrate RPAS into the European Aviation System and ATM in 2014.
"We've looked at the regulatory arrangements that needs to be in place, we looked at all the Research and Development activities needed and starting to see where do we have synergies with manned aviation so that we do not develop specific solutions for RPAS [Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems), but try to create synergies so that maybe the RPAS can contribute nicely to manned aviation and vice versa. So we're starting what we call here on the European side, the definition phase of RPAS integration into the European Aviation System and ATM," said Standar.
As the SESAR deployment phase becomes more mature between 2014 and 2020, the regulatory aspects of the SESAR program remain central to allowing the operation of improved flight procedures, RPAS integration and the deployment of more flight efficient routings to reduce fuel costs for airspace users and allow them to use those savings to modernize and equip their aircraft with the latest avionics systems that can perform the most advanced flight procedures necessary to connect the Single European Sky.
"In the European framework before all these things are in place it’s still a bit blurry as to how this will pan out. But being and seeing this for a number of years, I'm not frustrated about the current state of blurriness. It will work itself out," said Standar.
"We also vision that in in the new SESAR program we will dedicate more effort into demonstration activities, because it has so far been successful to show the real development activities in real life with real operators and real airspace users. The “see-is-to-believe” paradigm is very powerful to bridge towards deployment.”