ATM Modernization, Commercial

IATA, Harris Look to Battle ATM Inefficiencies with New Data-Sharing Tool

By Juliet Van Wagenen | October 17, 2016
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[Avionics Magazine 10-17-2016] A new cloud-based tool that promises to up efficiency in Air Traffic Management (ATM) and improve collaboration across key aviation decision-makers is on the cusp of launching under the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Harris Corp. Powered by the System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) data exchange protocol, the tool, SkyFusion, was developed and released this year and is currently in trials with two major commercial airlines, which remain unnamed until they launch the full-fledged operations. The tool aims to close communication gaps and help airports, airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) exchange operational information across Flight Information Regions (FIR) more effectively.

Skyfusion rendering
IATA and Harris have developed a system to more effectively streamline communication between air traffic management and aviation stakeholders. Photo: IATA

“In late 2014, IATA became increasingly more interested in better understanding air traffic flow management’s effects on multiple stakeholders, such as airlines, ANSPs and airports, as well as how sharing more information across borders could help facilitate better decision-making in aviation,” Rob Eagles, director of ATM infrastructure, safety and flight operations at IATA, told Avionics Magazine. At the same time, the organization noticed dialogue across industry that would improve the ability of main stakeholders to work together.

“The key point is how are we going to actually, physically enable more collaborative decision-making so that all the key stakeholders can have easy access to information that impacts many entities — different airspace areas, different airports and airlines — to then make the decision as opposed to just keeping collaborative decision-making in theory,” Eagles said. For this, the association turned to Harris, which has worked actively with Europe’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) initiative and the FAA’s NextGen deployment, including the installation and distribution of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) ground infrastructure across the U.S.

IATA and Harris Corp. conducted a worldwide study to see what regions suffered from inefficiencies due to poor Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM). The study revealed nearly $3.1 billion in avoidable inefficiencies annually by 2020, all due to a lack of information sharing. These inefficiencies were attributed to growing infrastructure costs, the increasing number of flights worldwide, and disruptions in operations. They particularly impacted ANSPs, airlines and airports in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Caribbean regions. Less than a year later, Skyfusion was born with a concentration on these regions to help fill in the gaps.

“We’re really rolling it out in three phases, which is: Asia-Pacific as an initial focus, Latin America is the second focus, and the Middle East is the third focus,” said Brett Wells, SkyFusion project manager at IATA. “We are rolling it out in these areas primarily because that's where we can have most impact with the disparate levels of information in those regions based on the states of the ANSPs and the airlines itself. They can probably get the most bang for their buck in terms of usage of this platform.”

Additionally, Asia was a key focus because of the high level of air traffic growth that the region is experiencing.

“Because of where it is geographically located, there is a lot of pressure on the systems in a range of countries and we are getting a lot of feedback from our own members to improve ATM in that region. We believe SkyFusion is a tool that can be very quickly and very easily instigated, and that can very easily support some of the initiatives to build up infrastructure,” Wells added.

Right now two airlines, two ANSPs, and an airport are all using SkyFusion together in a beta period. Upon the beta phase’s completion later this year, SkyFusion will be moving into a user forum with the beta users, and will open the forum up for additional attendees.

According to Eagles, the tool will enable better information sharing that will allow users to align their planning around disruptions and other ATM-related events, as well as to reduce costs of accessing and sharing information. It is available anywhere there is a reliable internet connection, and is as of yet meant mainly for ATM and ANSP use, meaning it won’t be available to operators in the cockpit.

“SkyFusion collects aviation data from a number of sources, including the stakeholders themselves, so they can receive the immediate benefits of Collaborative Decision Making (CDM),” said Eagles. The plan is for this better decision making to heighten situational awareness, allow stakeholders to more easily predict demand and manage capacity, allow for “seamless” communications across borders, and even lower carbon emissions through streamlined operations.

The technology pulls information from SWIM to enable this level of data sharing, but rather than interact with SWIM, SkyFusion acts as the core and is a free-standing network that gives users the ability to connect and get access to valuable aviation information such as flight plans, airport information and weather.

“Basically, what we want to ensure is that we can actually use the protocols that have been identified to standardization of data, the data formats, availability of the information and the protocols for use. So that will be engineered into the SWIM platform,” said Eagles.

By using SWIM, SkyFusion can enable a more scalable, flexible infrastructure within which stakeholders can manage, update and further develop information.

“By enabling users to share information more in the cloud with information that is going to be shared across borders, it really is, from a technology standpoint, the option that allows them to do something much more scalable, and distribute information one-to-many as opposed to kind of a point-to-point standpoint, which is how it's done today,” said Harris’ Corporation General Manager for SkyFusion Lisa Sullivan.

But one of the fundamental blocks of the platform, the sharing of the data itself, is proving to throw up some cultural barriers for the beta technology.

“Data sharing is one of the challenges with this particular platform, or the willingness of state and stakeholders to share their information,” said Wells. “There's a few psychological barriers that I think we're going to need to break down as we move along with deployments in the future with each of the stakeholders. You know, everybody wants to benefit from shared data but we find that sometimes they're not willing to share the data. But I believe we will move past that as we work through deployment.”

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