ATM Magazine’s discussion was Klaus Meier, CTO, Skyguide was quite enlightening. I always enjoy speaking with Klaus as I come from a technology background and it’s great to get the take of someone who is really focused on the latest tech and how it can help our industry.

Of course, we couldn’t have a conversation at the time of this meeting without discussing the recent outage that Skyguide was faced with which resulted in a three hour clear the skies gap. As the issue was in the core network, it was not possible to shift air traffic control to a different centre in the region.  The network architecture includes core switches and routers that support a mix of older and new platforms. One switch malfunctioned and stopped transmitting data across the network.  Additionally, the redundancy in the network did not work. There was a first alarm very early Monday morning and with the 2nd alarm the system went down. The problem was a routing table corruption in a core switch cluster which prevents redundancy to kick in. What we now need to determine is why this could lead to a 'clear-the-sky'. During the time of the outage, all voice and radar functionality continued to work. Central monitoring of flight information was the key area to be impacted.

Skyguide has been recognised in our industry with a bold move to the virtual centre concept. When asking Klaus what his advice is for other ANSPs who are considering such a move, his response was ‘do it’. The project is being completed in three phases and they currently are in the second phase. This has been delayed by one year with an increase of costs by 10% due to the current environment in our industry the last two years.

The introduction of this concept was not without challenges. Switzerland has one airspace and two centre locations. The virtual centre concept allows them to function as if they are in one location. Geneva’s location is 30 years old, which is older than Zurich and has more older legacy systems. The idea is to switch off the older approach and tower legacy operations. The longer you keep the legacy systems in the place, the bigger the impact on the overall business case. Another word of advice for other ANSPs is ‘watch legacy system use when planning your business case”.

We talked quite a bit about activities in the unmanned space and the importance of unsegregated airspace. There’s only so much airspace available, which doesn’t really lend itself to segregation. Today Skyguide is supporting U-space with a special flight office that looks at anything that needs approval under this umbrella. This is a semi-automated function, which still needs a supervisor to approve. This is being rolled out to regional airports. Dynamic airspace for drone operations is being worked with EASA and they are working closely with FOCA. There is some work being done to address military and civil unmanned support at airports and something will be implemented in the spring of 2023. Regarding UAM, the time is not right in Switzerland. If you think of the early use cases of moving people in large urban environments, there isn’t really an urgent need in Switzerland for this solution, so it’s still a bit in the future for this region.

Supporting the environment is always a key topic in Skyguide’s regular reporting. Today we fly like we did 60 years ago and this can’t continue if we want to reduce our environmental impact. We need to increase the efficiency of how we travel through the airspace. There’s a lot of discussion around increasing digitisation in order to accomplish this. Although this technology move is important in the overall evolution of our industry, we shouldn’t skip the impact of all of the data centres needed to support this digitisation and the use of power they require. So is this really a shift from one bucket to another but not an overall decrease of any magnitude? This is a really interesting thought that I don’t see being discussed and we should take a look at the bottom-line results as we make these technology decisions. The real impact will come from the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). There’s also a lot of potential to improve our carbon footprint with real-time flight optimisation tools.

Technology is evolving – connectivity, big data, data aggregation, AI algorithms – and has the ability to bring about big changes. ‘It feels like something is going on in this industry and that we’re ready for big changes. We can’t go back to world before Covid, so let’s bring together different industries and ask new questions.” I’m onboard for the flight, how about you?