New stories coming soon!

On 23/11/2015, in View from the left seat, by steve


Photo British Airways

Photo British Airways

The Roger-Wilco blog has grown over the years mainly on the strength of our contributors who have supplied us with interesting articles, stories and news which then attracted many loyal readers from all over the world.

It is with great pleasure that I can tell you that Phil Hogge, whose name will be familiar to many of our readers, has kindly agreed to share with the Roger-Wilco family some of the short stories he has written. After a lifetime in aviation and now retired, Phil is amusing himself writing short stories based on things people have told him, things he has seen and done. They are all fictional but all based on the truth and sometimes suitably embroidered! The stories give a wonderful flavor of what airline life was like in the 1960s and 70s. We will be bringing Phil’s stories under the “View from the left seat” tag. Check back often!


An ANSP that Cares

On 20/11/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Hungary has always been at one of the busiest cross-roads of European traffic and time and again had to absorb even more flights when conflicts near-by and not so near-by resulted in a reshuffling of the routes taken by overflights of all kinds. The airport in Budapest has always been a lively place and its traffic is now recovering nicely following the crisis the industry went through in recent years. All in all, air traffic controllers in the country have always had a lot on their plates and have justifiably earned praise for their safe and efficient operation.

Photo HungaroControl

Photo HungaroControl

The Hungarian air navigation service provider, HungaroControl is well known in the industry and they count as one of the most innovative ANSPs… some might even say too innovative but that is pure jealousy in my view. The list of new products and services they have put out is impressive. ATCO training, one of the premier simulation and validation centers, a sequencing tool for arriving and departing traffic… not to mention the fact that Hungary has the first completely and truly free route airspace in Europe. CPDLC is in the pipeline and work is underway to introduce the remote tower concept, expected to actually replace the current brick and mortar facility at some point in the not too distant future. Clearly, this is an ANSP that is not afraid to push the boundaries.

It was with this background that their email requesting that we, industry folks answer a few questions from which HungaroControl wants to get an idea of their reputation in the world. I am not too keen on surveys in general (the Star Alliance is especially keen on asking for my opinion after each time I fly with them and this happens quite often) but a survey coming from an ANSP is probably a first and as such, it picked my interest.

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A Square is not a Circle

On 11/11/2015, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

QuestionOne of the most boring features of air traffic management conferences are the reports from ANSPs, SESAR, even the European Commission which, year after year, tell those who come to listen that everything is fine, all the projects are on track and things could not be brighter. We even get news of a few small scale trials like 4D trajectory and the like… few people seem to notice, or possibly even care, that the word “initial” is often there in front of the functionality in question.

This is the magic word, past versions were “evolution not revolution”, “learn to walk before you run” and so on. In fact this little word signifies the very thing the new ATM development trajectory was supposed to eliminate: the lowest common denominator that could be agreed and this may in fact be a far cry from what the original concept of operations envisaged.

The other aspect that does not seem to bother people are the dates attached to all but the simplest developments. Looking into EU Regulation No. 716/2014 which establishes the Pilot Common Project supporting the implementation of the European Air Traffic Management Master Plan reveals a few things we all should be worried about.

The list of ATM functionalities that the PCP contains gives a clue already at how things have been put upside down since the concept of operations for SESAR was written.

Just as a reminder, the concept of System Wide Information Management (SWIM) was put into SESAR mainly because an earlier study had shown clearly that the majority of problems experienced by users were a direct result of or closely related to inferior management of the sea of information aviation stakeholders create and consume, or would, if the environment was better organized. It was also recognized that without going away from the legacy message based solutions, and replacing them by the kind of information sharing SWIM introduces, none of the advanced ATM concepts would be able to work properly. SWIM was developed to address the problems and the off-the-shelf technology required has been around for more than ten years. Now look at Regulation 716/2014 and lo and behold, the date for implementing an INITIAL version of SWIM is 2025!

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Yes I do have an issue with remote towers!

On 05/11/2015, in Life around runways, by steve

I remember very well the day when the idea of remote towers was brought into the picture by our colleagues from Sweden during the latter part of the SESAR definition phase. I was there on behalf of the airlines and we were laboring to insert (against considerable opposition I might add) the real paradigm changing ideas, like new separation methods and rearranging the responsibility for separation provision, to name just a few. Those things were projecting a very real change in how we would do air traffic management in the future… and into this exalted sphere came the idea of the remote tower. At that time this was meant to improve safety at remote aerodromes which could not be supplied with air traffic services in a cost effective way.

Fine… bring it in but please let’s not make this a priority. There were so many things to tackle first, things that would create additional capacity and also bring the culture change we on the airline side believed was essential if European ATM was to be salvaged.
Remote towers (essentially a development driven by technology) were none of those. They still are not, in spite of the hype. What is more, they are diverting attention and effort from something far more important.

I do not doubt that remote towers bring safety benefits to small, remote airports where no air traffic service of any kind was being provided previously. But when big, complex airports start to consider going “remote”, one cannot but wonder: what is happening here?

Of course, the ANSPs caught on very quickly that substantial savings can be realized by going away from the brick-and-mortar tower and go “virtual”. A good example is HungaroControl in Budapest who are very keen on the remote tower concept not because it brings additional capacity or safety benefits but because the current tower, owned by the airport operator, is very expensive to rent and maintain. I do not blame them for this but it shows one of the main driving forces behind the remote tower rage.

The industry concerned is only too happy to encourage the ever wider use of the concept, after all, selling cameras and other hardware, not to mention clever software (that is not rocket science at all) is something that has a nice, fat margin. Again I do not blame them, they need to earn money too.

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FAA releases B4UFLY App Beta Test For UAS Users

On 28/08/2015, in UAS, by steve

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today released the beta version of a new smartphone application called “B4UFLY” for testing by up to 1,000 unmanned aircraft users.

sampleThe B4UFLY app, aimed primarily at model aircraft enthusiasts, is designed to give users information about restrictions or requirements in effect at their current or planned flight location. The FAA expects the beta test will yield valuable data on how well B4UFLY functions, as well as uncovering any software bugs.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta first announced the initiative in May, asking for volunteers to test the app. The FAA has notified those who previously signed up and will be pushing the app to them directly in the coming days.

Many unmanned aircraft users today have little or no aviation experience, and some of them are flying where they could endanger manned aircraft. B4UFLY will give these flyers the tools and knowledge they need to operate safely.

Key features of the B4UFLY app include:
• A clear “status” indicator that immediately informs operators about their current or planned location.
• Information on the parameters that drive the status indicator.
• A “Planner Mode” for future flights in different locations.
• Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
• Links to other FAA UAS resources and regulatory information.
Screenshots of the app are available here.

B4UFLY complements the Know Before You Fly educational campaign, which provides prospective UAS operators with information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly. The FAA is a partner in the effort with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition.

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Take the survey!

On 21/08/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Dear Roger-Wilco Fans,

surveyThis does not happen often, but I am asking for your help. Current and former air traffic control professionals are invited to take a survey, which should take no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete.  Your feedback is important and will be used in the completion of the Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership Degree of our good friend Bob Mullennix.

Your help would be very much appreciated and it would be good if you could ask also your friends and colleagues to complete the survey and so help Bob.

The link to the survey is here.

Let’s show what Roger-Wilco can do!

We are required to provide an Informed Consent Form, which you can find here. This is a formality meant to help you decide whether or not to participate.



FAA Passes 1,000 UAS Section 333 exemption approvals

On 04/08/2015, in UAS, by steve

In its continuing effort to safely expand and support commercial unmanned aircraft operations in U.S. airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration has now granted more than 1,000 Section 333 exemption approvals. As of today, the agency has issued 1,008 such exemptions.


Companies and individuals from a broad spectrum of industries are taking advantage of the Section 333 exemption process. Many of the grants the FAA has issued allow aerial filming for uses such as motion picture production, precision agriculture and real estate photography. The agency also has issued grants for new and novel approaches to inspecting power distribution towers and wiring, railroad infrastructure and bridges

Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to determine if an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the national airspace system.

To address the demand for Section 333 authorizations, the FAA recently streamlined the process to make it easier for operators to access the nation’s airspace.

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Wildfires and Drones Don’t Mix

On 29/07/2015, in UAS, by steve

Responding to recent incidents in which unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as “drones,” interfered with manned aircraft involved in wildland firefighting operations, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is supporting the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in their simple message to drone operators: If you fly; we can’t.


“Flying a drone near aerial firefighting aircraft doesn’t just pose a hazard to the pilots,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “When aircraft are grounded because an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, lives are put at greater risk.”

Often a temporary flight restriction (TFR) is put in place around wildfires to protect firefighting aircraft. No one other than the agencies involved in the firefighting effort can fly any manned or unmanned aircraft in such a TFR. Anyone who violates a TFR and endangers the safety of manned aircraft could be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. Even if there is no TFR, operating a UAS could still pose a hazard to firefighting aircraft and would violate Federal Aviation Regulations.

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Are Air Traffic Controllers Passé?

On 19/07/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Well, not quite… not yet anyway. But it is a profession that can expect to face major changes in the coming decades.

disruptDuring the definition phase of SESAR I was the “owner”, on behalf of the airline group, of the concept of operations we were developing under the expert guidance of a colleague from KLM. The airlines were pushing hard to have the concept of free flight included. In case you are not familiar with this concept, let me just say that in free flight the responsibility for providing separation is transferred to the pilot. We do have something like this in traditional ATC also when, for instance, an aircraft is instructed to cross a level “maintaining own separation and VMC”. In free flight this is the normal operating mode and not only in VMC.

Controllers were long of two minds about free flight. Some saw this as a natural development, others as a threat to their jobs. Some controller unions embraced this second stance and in the SESAR work back then it were the latter we had to contend with.

At a certain point in time I was asked to make a presentation at a meeting attended also by controller representatives, explaining what the benefits of free flight were as seen by the airlines. It was interesting by the way that pilots and pilot unions were not generally opposed to free flight. Somehow they felt (I presume) that this was the kind of paradigm change that would help make their operations more efficient and hence help their companies survive.

Anyway, I made my presentation making extensive use of the excellent free-flight related material available from the Dutch NLR. Obviously, the whole thing was in the early research phase but the results were not only encouraging but totally convincing also. To us, dreamers anyway.

The controllers were not impressed, nor were we expecting them to be. One of them went so far as to actually inform me that what I was saying was nuts (he used a less polite word by the way).

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Automation – NOT an option, an inevitability

On 02/07/2015, in ATC world, by steve

For many years, theses on automation in both the air traffic management and the cockpit context used expressions like “human in the loop”, “human centered”, “human the final decision maker” and so on. Air traffic control and pilot unions liked these expressions because they saw in them an assurance that their jobs would be preserved also in the future. For automation experts the very same expressions sent a different message: you are only allowed to build systems that are limited to what the humans can do. This is a very serious limitation but luckily we are finally about to round a corner beyond which a completely new world beckons.

We have all heard and read about UAS, an acronym that stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems. Sometimes they are called RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). Whatever the name, it refers to a new type of aircraft which does not have a pilot on board. Commonly referred to as “drones”, these aircraft fly with the “driver” on the ground, often thousands of miles away. They can accomplish many types of missions from seeking out and neutralizing bad guys through border patrol and checking oil pipelines. It is easy to see that integrating such operations with the civil air traffic management system is a task that needs some thought.

But the real disruptive development comes when UAS start to fly with no pilot involved at all. Autonomous UAS… Don’t think that these are small, innocent vehicles. If people like the box shifters have their way, we will have wide-body cargo planes flying as autonomous UAS in the 2030-2050 time frame. By aviation development standards, that is tomorrow, so it is probably a good idea to have a closer look to what such a disruptive technology really means for pilots and air traffic controllers.

What is driving these developments?

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