Pole Position

Delays in high profile upgrades in Europe and the US have pushed Australia’s Airservices into pole position in the global quest to implement new generation systems to attain cost reduction and operational efficiency.

Up until budget sequestration in the US and schedule delays in Europe caused their respective ATM projects to stall, Australia had been planning the development and implementation of its new ATM system – OneSKY – to coincide with the Single European Sky (SES) and its US counterpart NextGen, Julian Green reported in December 2013.

But with equal measures of ambition and hesitation, Airservices’ project lead for OneSKY, Jason Harfield says the Australian air navigation service provider is in a position now where it is going to be implementing well before NextGen and SESAR are operating. “So we’ve had to start developing the roadmap ourselves because this isn’t about replacing a system, this is about changing the way we do business in the industry,” says Harfield.

When Airservices commissioned TAAATS (The Australian Advanced Air Traffic System) in 1999, it had been envisaged that the new system would integrate military and civil air traffic control requirements. However, with the differences in approach, specification and philosophy proving too divergent, Airservices procured a standalone system for civil use.

Then, with the economic operational life of TAAATS coming to an end, discussions between the Australian Department of Defence and Airservices started once again in an effort to explore the concept of integration. Since 2009 both parties have been working successfully to overcome historic differences in a project that is not only bold for its local ambitions, but for its line-up in the global ATM development programme.

“We’re implementing something that’s going to manage more than 11 per cent of the earth’s surface, we’re doing it combined with defence, so really this is something on a scale that isn’t being done anywhere else right now,” says Harfield.

Scrutiny

Given its high profile, it’s not surprising OneSKY has come under close scrutiny from observers who claim the project is massively over-budget and late. But Harfield strongly defends the project’s position, stating the cost to date in developing the specifications and preparing the request for tender (RFT) has been in the order of $30 million.

“The figure is around expectations for the timeframe – a four-year process. And to put it into perspective, by the time we implement OneSKY you’re looking at a $600 million infrastructure programme. The amount spent on the RFT was around five per cent of the total project cost.”

Harfield does admit, however, the RFT was 12 months later than originally anticipated. As he explained, getting it right at the outset was critical when defining the specifications for a joint-use system.

“Obviously we would have preferred to have issued the RFT earlier, but it has been important that we take account of the variances to the core system requirements that come from the specific operational differences between civil and military without compromising either.”

Overlap

Eighty per cent of the civil and military requirements overlap and are much the same, while the remaining 20 per cent, in the case of military requirements for example, is national contingency and forward deployment. “Our 20 per cent is managing in the pre-tactical space – networked flow management and enroute, which the military doesn’t have so much of a requirement for,” says Harfield.

“We wanted to work through all those issues well before we went to RFT. This is why it has taken longer to get to RFT than we originally proposed.”

Now, as tender submissions are being evaluated, Harfield believes Airservices’ lead position is likely to result in benefits for both the users and the supplier.

‘The interest was always going to be strong simply because of the magnitude of the OneSKY project, but with NextGen and SESAR pushing out and us being first to approach the market, the suppliers are expressing massive interest, because whoever is the successful tenderer suddenly has a showroom to get into the US and European markets,” says Harfield.

“We’re procuring a system that we are implementing in 2018 that will last us until at least 2035, so a lot of what will be contained in the tender submissions will represent a ‘technology road map’ towards the end date not necessarily as technology stands today.”

Despite the late start, Harfield is committed to retaining schedule integrity towards the beginning of transition from TAAATS to OneSKY in 2018 with contract signature with the successful supplier in early 2015.

The system specification has been deliberately modularised so components can be upgraded to take account of new regulatory requirements, technology advances or other developments without the need for a whole-of-system replacement.

“The system cannot remain static. We’re designing it so it has the flexibility to be upgraded throughout its life. This will be the last time that we upgrade for total replacement,” concludes Harfield.

ADS-B

At the same time as advancing on the strategic front, Airservices has been steadily rolling out its ADS-B platform in time for the 12 December mandate for aircraft flying within the Australian FIR above FL290.

Airservices has commissioned 31 ground stations across the Australian mainland and adjacent islands. A further 14 stations will be installed over the coming three years to provide additional surveillance coverage at lower altitudes and to support future ADS-B mandates. Meanwhile, consideration is currently being given to the installation of ADS-B stations on offshore gas and oil platforms to extend coverage in the far northwest where air activity is booming thanks to the rapidly growing resources sector.

Immediately outside the Australian FIR, Papua New Guinea is set to invest in ADS-B and Australia is already sharing ADS-B information with Indonesia. Both measures are aimed at improving boundary performance.

Already 90 per cent of all civil flights above FL290 are conducted using ADS-B, with equipage among Australian-registered aircraft very high for aircraft servicing scheduled and fly-in/fly-out operations with 94 per cent of all international flights compliant.

However, the corporate sector lags significantly behind with only 25 per cent of aircraft fitted with the required avionics, leaving an estimated 106 business jets unequipped. The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority is now looking at whether it will publish an exemption for operators in radar coverage and trans-oceanic airspace, something Airservices said it would be ‘prepared to facilitate’.

INSPIREd

As both ADS-B and OneSKY pull together Airservices’ neighbours towards closer co-operation, two programmes the air navigation service provider (ANSP) is deeply involved in are generating tangible cost and environmental benefits in routine operations.

ASPIRE (Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions) and its sister project INSPIRE (Indian Ocean Strategic Partnership to Reduce Emissions) are together now routinely offering some of the 80 foreign airlines serving Australia and all domestic carriers the benefits of flexible tracking and company-preferred routes. Under the now commonplace collaborative decision-making philosophy, Airservices is facilitating some 500 flights a month under ASPIRE alone.

While flex tracking becomes routine, demonstration flights are still conducted to prove developments that come from practice and collaboration between the more than dozen ANSPs and nearly 20 airlines and airports that are involved with ASPIRE and INSPIRE.

In September, Airservices and long-time user of INSPIRE, Emirates, conducted a demonstration flight between Dubai, Brisbane and Auckland.

The two flights were the most recent of more than 100 similar demonstrations across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. On a flight of a similar stage length to that typically operated on any of Emirates’ 84 flights a week from Dubai to Australia, average fuel savings of 740kg and a reduction of 2.3 tonnes of CO2 have been realised.

Improvement

As Greg Hood, Airservices’ executive general manager, air traffic control, points out: “The first flex track with Emirates back in 2004 saved 44 minutes of flight time. We’ve been doing it ever since. The trial flights such as the recent one with Emirates on INSPIRE allow us the opportunity to identify any areas for further improvement that need to be addressed by us.”

Conflict recognition, protection and resolution tools are now the prime focus.

“User-preferred routes do add complexity. When we had fixed crossing routes you had very clear (separation) calculations. Now when routes change every day it means conflict points change every day. That presents challenges to the controller to manage separation especially outside surveillance areas,” says Hood.

ADS-B will clearly play a role in this effort, allowing controllers to apply a radar-like standard to separation in busier airspace. Similarly, OneSKY will have inbuilt tools that enhance conflict alerting and resolution.

But Hood says one of the greatest assets is that neighbouring ANSPs are talking to one another. Levels of systemic safety have certainly increased as a result allowing Airservices the ability to create synergies between ANSPs, particularly in automated messaging.

“We are gaining strong benefits where those synergies occur,” he says, adding that incident rates where automated systems are matched at FIR boundaries, such as New Zealand and the US, are very low.

While across the Indian and Pacific Oceans the level of synergies are high, to the north of Australia the situation is still developing beyond the progressive rollout of ADS-B.

“Some northern ANSPs have not yet procured systems for automated communications and in those types of situations you are faced with an increased potential for human error at the FIR boundary,” says Hood.

However, Hood notes: “We’re seeing a heavy investment in this infrastructure right across the region. I’d be very confident that in five years we’ll have systems that talk to each other and that seamless messaging will exist across the region.”

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Issue 4, 20143

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, Communications, Features, Military ATC

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