[Avionics Today 12-11-2014] The European Commission's new Transportation Commissioner Violeta Bulc is taking major strides toward uniting the region's fragmented Air Traffic Management (ATM) system, making €3 billion ($3.7 billion) in new funding available to help move the Single European Sky (SES) airspace reform project forward. Last week, the EC tasked a group or Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), airports and airlines to jointly serve as the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program Deployment Alliance to use the new funding to implement common airspace modernization projects.
European operators, such as Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), want the new alliance to use the new funding to invest in ATM infrastructure that will allow them to take advantage of the onboard avionics that they've invested in for their aircraft, SAS Manager of Operational Regulatory Affairs and ATM Jan Eriksson told Avionics Magazine.
"SAS considers the agreement with the SESAR Deployment Alliance (SDA) consortium — i.e. the Deployment Manager — to be a big step in the right direction to establish a Single European Sky, especially if EU makes [$3.7 billion] €3 billion available in funding," said Eriksson. "SESAR JU should spend resources to support the Commission to finalize the data link and surveillance mandates. Airspace users have invested in onboard equipment and it is important that they get a return on these investments."
The biggest goal of the SES project is to reduce the European Union's fragmented air traffic system. Currently Europe features 29 different zones of major Air Traffic Control (ATC) centers, forcing pilots to fly routes that are much longer and less direct because they're constantly changing centers, which affect their flight profile based on procedures and instructions from each center. Under the Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) aspect of the program, the total number of national ATC centers would be reduced from 29 to nine.
Another major goal for SES deployment is the Pilot Common Project, which identifies six ATM functionalities, including extended arrival management and Performance Based Navigation (PBN) in the high density terminal maneuvering areas; airport integration and throughput; flexible airspace management and free route airspace; network collaborative management; initial System Wide Information Management (SWIM); and initial trajectory information sharing.
Overall, the SES program, now entering its 10th year, has been delayed, which affects the deployment of ATM infrastructure to support Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), as mentioned by Eriksson. Originally Europe had mandated legacy aircraft flying above 28,500 feet in European airspace to be retrofitted with CPDLC avionics by February 2015. However, technical difficulties have delayed the finalization of that mandate, despite SAS and other operators investing millions in new onboard equipment.
One way that the new alliance can ensure that the Pilot Common Project moves forward is to use a significant portion of the new funding to support operators' investment in new technology and procedures, according to Eriksson.
"In order to realize the Pilot Common Project and the six proposed technological deployments (ATM functionalities), funding should be directed to the airspace users where needed as these operate in a competitive market which is not applicable to the Air Navigation Service Providers," he said.
Membership within the new alliance should allow them to do exactly what SAS and other airlines are seeking. Among the members is the A6 Deployment Manager Alliance, featuring five ANSPs: DFS (Germany), DSNA (France), ENAIRE (Spain), ENAV (Italy) and NATS (U.K.). Collectively they manage more than 70 percent of the more than 27,000 flights that pass through European skies daily.
Also featured within the new alliance is the A4 Airlines group, which includes France-KLM, EasyJet, IAG and the Lufthansa Group. Their mission under the alliance is to help accelerate operational improvements in ATM, providing an airline perspective as new infrastructure and flight procedures are implemented.
The SESAR-related Deployment Airport Group (SDAG) includes a group of 25 airports among those represented by the Airports Council International that are within the scope of the Pilot Common Project.
As 2014 comes to an end, Bulc and the European Commission are looking for the new funding to lead to major progress with the deployment phase of the SES project in 2015, leading the region's air traffic system to reflect the unified structure that the United States uses. As the commission notes, "the U.S. air traffic management system is twice as efficient as that of the EU; it manages double the number of flights for a similar cost from a third as many control [centers]."