Worlds Apart?

As Europe negotiates the latest crossroads en route to ATM modernisation, Aviation Advocacy’s Andrew Charlton mulls whether NextGen is from Mars, SESAR is from Venus?

One of the great ways to open a speech at any ATM conference is to note that this year, ATM is ‘at the crossroads’.

We have been at the crossroads, to my recollection, every year for at least the last ten. It is probably more. The unkind interpretation is that we are not at the crossroads, we are lost. The kind view is that we have not been at the crossroads, year after year, but actually on a roundabout the entire time.

One of the traditional ways to help solve fundamental navigational issues is to call for a map. You may recall that at the start of the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) that is exactly what happened. The first job of the SJU was to write the new European ATM Master Plan. It was in accordance with that plan that the work of the SJU was mapped out and work funded.

It is an interesting aside to note that the process was not the same for NextGen. Yes, there was general agreement on what needed to be done – there has been general agreement on what has been needed to be done for some years: satellite-based, digital, interoperable trajectory-managed operations – but less reliance on agreeing first a plan of action mapping out the way to that conclusion. As long as you know where you are heading, no method is better or worse than the other. They are just different.

It might be that the two approaches reflects something deep and underlying in the psyches of the two sides of the north Atlantic, but that is something for someone much deeper and more learned than I. In any event, it is instructive to watch the two approaches as they work towards the difficult task of updating and refreshing a system that never stops, twenty-four seven.

It is important as you do watch the two approaches at work to also bear in mind that it is not a race. Each side of the Atlantic can help, and learn from, each other.

In any event, in Europe, we are now at a fascinating stage – I will not call it the crossroads – with the Master Plan. This is the case for a number of reasons. First, the SJU’s first mandate is coming to an end. A few large scale demonstrations remain to be finalised, but the focus is now turning to getting that technology into operation. Secondly, largely for that reason, work is now focusing on a revision of the Master Plan within the SJU, now officially called SESAR 2020. Thirdly, now, the focus is turning to getting the technology into operation, or to use the official jargon, to deploy the new systems.

Roll Out

Each is worth thinking about for a moment. First; the focus on getting things ready to deploy. The Commission’s regulations have been anticipating this moment for several years. The 2013 regulations provided that the industry select key ATM functionalities, known as common projects, and to ensure governance and incentives to see change by introducing those projects. The first common projects, known as the pilot common projects, or PCPs, were selected and scoped. An inclusive governance structure put in place and calls made to propose how to deploy these projects.

Secondly; the update to the Master Plan, which builds on what will now be deployed and takes things further. Launching that process in late December, the new director of air transport for the Commission Margus Rahuoja noted that if it was not in the Master Plan, it was not in scope.

Therefore the airlines and the airports, as well as the ANSPs needed to work together to be sure that it was correct. Rahuoja noted “Our common aim, whether the Commission or another organisation, like Eurocontrol, is to make sure everything we do is reflected in the Master Plan”. You have to be in it to win it. That is entirely in step with the process taken to identify the PCPs and the way forward. The aim is industry-wide cooperation.

The aim is for the new Master Plan to also inform the next edition of the ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP) in late 2015, making the European Master Plan an important part of the future infrastructure for global aviation. That is a not insignificant point. Infrastructure investment is a big deal – each decision ties down the future as much as enables it – and to invest in ATM infrastructure now we need to be sure that we are not making a rod for our back into the future.

Finally, the focus on deployment. In accordance with the call for deployment manager proposals, the Deployment Manager has also been appointed. Ultimately, the field of candidates was one. That is not as damning as it might sound. The DM is actually a coalition of the A4, the A6 and the A25. The A4 is the more than four major airlines; the A6 is the more than six major ANSPs; and the A25 is the 25 largest airports.All parts of the industry are involved and working together.

Challenge

The former CEO of ENAV, the Italian ANSP, Massimo Garbini, is a very popular choice for the Deployment Manager itself. He has the respect of most in the community, and having sat on former Vice President Kallas’ Aviation Platform, knows many of the players in the airlines and airports. He has a considerable job ahead of him to organise the DM, ensure that the projects are started, and completed on time and in accordance with the requirements and that there is some sense of order in the roll out of the brave new ATM world. He will have a budget of €3 billion to make a real difference.

He will not have an easy task. He will need to be inclusive of the various parts of the industry, and try to balance a number of competing demands on his time, and funds. The PCPs identified the functionalities that need to be addressed and the priority locations that will need to addressed first. That helps him with his priorities.

However, issues remain. The most urgent is data communication. Given the concerns with the first attempt to deploy a single frequency datacom system, there is huge pressure to find a new solution as quickly as possible. The SJU has been tasked with reporting on the technological issues, and the DM will be responsible to roll it out. We need to be sure that any new solution meets the airlines’ requirements as well.

This year will also see a number of Eurocontrol’s Centralised Services, currently gradually being put to tender piecemeal, being announced. That will at least start to see some limited competition arise, including, in the manner in which each proposed service might be delivered.

We are not at the crossroads in Europe; there are signs of movement. One very interesting place that you might consider to pull over and take a moment as we rush down the road away from that infamous crossroad would be a lookout. I say that because 2015 looks like it might be fascinating viewing.

Andrew Charlton is managing director of Aviation Advocacy, an independent air transport strategic consulting and government affairs consultancy www.aviationadvocacy.aero/blog

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