At Source

Frequentis’ Hannu Juurakko asks whether air navigation service providers are ready for outsourced networks

Everyone is doing it, making their lives easier by letting telecom providers or other network management organisations take care of their network requirements.  Basically focusing on what you do best and letting others who know this topic take care of it for you. But what about the introduction of the safety-critical nature associated with air traffic control functionality?  Could this really work and might it already be occurring?  I recently attended a conference with senior leaders from more than 20 air navigation service providers (ANSP) that inspired me to share my thoughts on this subject.

Network outsourcing has evolved a great deal over the last decade. We’ve gone from a world where it was all about someone else managing your IT network infrastructure for a lower cost to a world where network outsourcing now includes topics such as digital transformation, automation and cyber security.

Recent advances in intelligent networks provide confidence that technology has evolved to master air traffic control functionality. With the introduction of new technologies such as soft-defined networking (SDN), allows the assignment of individual parameters to specific applications increasing the quality of service within the network where it really counts. It could be that ANSPs feel they are not quite ready for this change, but I believe there are scenarios where these topics can play a role in the network strategy for this audience. With the ability to assign specific quality parameters to each mission critical communication, ANSPs should take a deeper look into the benefits these technologies can provide to their organisations. Let’s first take a look at how this evolution has already occurred in other adjacent industries such as airports.

Adjacent industry examples

Airports have been outsourcing their IT networks for some time now. You might argue that these networks are not ‘safety-critical’ as they mainly focus on IT interworkings of an airport, but they still impact the performance of the airport and the ability for the flying public to reach their destination on time.

Dusseldorf airport began outsourcing its IT infrastructure in 2010. Beginning in 2005, they partnered with SITA to create the world’s first fully outsourced airport IT project resulting in a joint venture between the two organisations. The project originated with the outsourcing of their internal IT including computer maintenance and evolved to include a GPS-based location system for ground power units, a UMTS mobile broadband network, a baggage reconciliation system, an online management tool for vacant parking spots and an airport-wide TETRA professional mobile radio network. The airport is now a service provider to its downstream customers, such as airlines and airport tenant businesses, creating a situation that not only reduced costs, but created a new revenue stream.1

On the other hand, things don’t always go to plan and then who is ultimately to blame? In 2011, a consortium including SITA, Cap Gemini UK and BAA was created to provide LAN, WAN and professional mobile radio connections at six major airports in the UK: Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Similar to the example in Germany this was about reducing costs, improving customer experience, and driving new revenue streams for the airports.2 In May of this year, there was a major IT failure caused many flight cancellations for British Airways at both Heathrow and Gatwick. Around 1,000 flights were cancelled and an estimated 75,000 passengers were impacted. Although the fault was identified to be related to a power surge, those proponents who are against outsourcing argued this would not have happened if these responsibilities were still in-house.3 I guess you need to be the judge.

The main difference that cannot be overlooked as ANSPs consider the outsourcing topic is the safety critical nature of air traffic control. What if an outage occurs related to the air traffic control communications networks? Of course, there would be redundancy planning, but the magnitude of these implications is even greater with aircraft in the sky. So why might an ANSP still consider to move down this path?  Really for the same reasons as the airports:

  • the ability to focus on their core business and let the network experts take on this role
  • the ability to shift their in-house resources into more strategic roles driving the future evolution of air traffic management
  • reduce cost – both CAPEX and OPEX
  • the possibility to drive new business models, i.e. – providing downstream services to smaller regional airports.
  • migration from legacy networks to a modern IP-based infrastructure
  • consolidation of fragmented regional networks into a coherent infrastructure to reduce cost
  • faster migration to new technologies
  • better preparedness for future communications requirements
  • alignment with Single European Sky rules and standards.4

Building on the success of PENS, NewPENS is now in the works to further evolve this infrastructure to meet the next generation of air traffic management requirements.  NewPENS goals will address:

  • network manager services
  • mission critical communication needs requiring Pan-European ATM services
  • cross-border interconnections between ANSPs
  • domestic ANSP communications.

Mejoras al Enlace de Voz del ATS (MEVA) in the Caribbean takes this a step further. The network integrates voice and data satellite-based communication services between ICAO member states in the region. This network was originally conceptualised in order to ensure more reliable communications infrastructure for a region where this reliability was not always available. There are four categories of services transported on this infrastructure:  ATC voice telecommunications between area control centres, messaging services including flight plans, NOTAMs and AFTN and AMHS connections, radar data sharing services and remote radio connectivity services.

The cost for the service is shared equally between the individual MEVA members and the MEVA Technical Management Group. In 2016, Frequentis assumed responsibility for the network operations. The goals of the network are similar to those mentioned above for PENS.  Additionally, the reliability improvements resulting from the MEVA network are key attributes of the programme.5

FAA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) is another example of a successful networking programme. FTI was implemented in order to provide consolidated, safety-critical telecom services for 5,000 facilities in the National Airspace System (NAS). The goals were to reduce cost, increase bandwidth and improve security. Email, internet access, and other administrative services are supported on the FTI Mission Support Network. This network allows for an enterprise-wide approach to information security assurance, meets the latest government standards for information security, and has added encryption functionality to ensure improved security services. Over the years, other networks have found their way into the FAA National airspace, for example as a part of their ADS-B programme, raising efficiency questions of the FTI programme. As a result, they are now planning an FTI-2 programme. The intent is to introduce newer networking technologies, gain additional cost benefits and improved security and safety.

Hannu Juurakko is vice president and general manager, ATM Civil, Frequentis AG. His background includes more than two decades in telecommunications related industry, holding various roles in sales and channel management at customer interface, in product business for high availability mission critical telecommunication systems, subcontracting and partnering management, outsourcing projects, product business management, project management and product line management at senior and executive level.

Sources

1 https://www.sita.aero/resources/type/customers-stories/dusseldorf-international-airport-outsourcing

2  https://www.internationalairportreview.com/news/4871/baa-improving-heathrow-with-outsourced-it-services/

3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/jwebb/2017/05/29/british-airways-flights-and-it-failure-cue-furious-debate-around-outsourcing/#683a0a557839

4 http://www.eurocontrol.int/articles/pan-european-network-services-pens

5 https://www.icao.int/Meetings/a39/Documents/WP/wp_389_en.pdf

6 https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/technology/cinp/fti/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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