Crossing the pond in new and better ways

On 27/03/2014, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

trackEver since I got my controller’s license, I have been fascinated by the way air traffic is managed over the Atlantic Ocean. Why? Well, designated air routes as such are giving way to free route airspace in many parts of the world but flying over the pond has had a very special definition of air routes for a long time which meant that there were no such things yet there existed at the same time the most sophisticated organized track system ever invented. Sounds weird? Let me explain.

Due to the very specific needs of traffic operating between North America and Europe and vice versa as a result of passenger preferences and time-zone differences, airlines fly in two distinct waves: there is a westbound flow departing Europe in the morning and an eastbound flow departing North America in the evening. Although timetables vary by season, the westbound traffic crossing 30W longitude peaks between 1130 and 1900 UTC while the eastbound peak occurs between 0100 and 0800 UTC. More than a 1000 aircraft cross the Atlantic daily.

Most of the North Atlantic (NAT) oceanic airspace lacks surveillance and hence traffic is handled procedurally with separation minima that are far larger than what we are used to in continental airspace (this is going to change now… see below). Things are complicated by the fact that the economical level band is limited (Fl310 – Fl400) and that aircraft prefer to climb as their mass decreases in line with the burn-off of their fuel loads. This results in a major congestion of the airspace during the peak hours.

In order to make things manageable, a system of organized tracks has been put in place with a view to accommodating as many flights as possible in each of the flows on or close to their minimum time tracks and optimum level profiles. This sounds simple, but it is not. Weather patterns, including the position of the jet stream exhibit major swings and the minimum time tracks are seldom located at the same place from one day to the next. In practice this means that a different set of tracks has to be constructed for each of the flows every day. A separate and dedicated track arrangement is published each day for the eastbound and the westbound flows. This is the Organized Track System or OTS.


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BluSky Services – New logo, new web site, same top quality service!

On 20/03/2014, in Just to let you know..., by steve

Untitled-3On 1 April BluSky Services (parent of Roger-Wilco) celebrates its 11th birthday. Not one of those numbers usually celebrated by special events and firework but nevertheless, we have given the company a new logo and a new, fresh and dynamic web presence.

The logo is a more modern version of the previous one and as such the third incarnation of the original logo concept. The mountains (fashioned after the Grand Teton peaks in the US) are still there symbolizing the stamina of the company and of course the traditionally small aircraft hinting at what we do. In the version of the logo printed on our business cards the foundation year of BluSky, 2003, is also included… Yes, we are rather proud of the successful business group we built at the start of the previous decade.

The web site itself is constructed for simplicity to ensure that visitors find the information they seek with a minimum number of clicks. We would like to present the width of our services right on the top and then provide sufficient information to pick the interest of those honoring us with a visit so that they come back to us at the source to discuss their requirements.

I think the web site reflects the main development directions of the company. While we are maintaining our expertise in the air traffic management field, we are focusing more than ever also on our multimedia and training products. We hope that in this way we can provide an even more balanced and useful service to our clients all over the world.

Check out the new BluSky Services web-site here!


4D flights to make air travel even more predictable

On 20/03/2014, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Air travel will become even more predictable in the future thanks to the work undertaken within the SESAR Programme to develop and validate initial 4D (i4D) trajectory management – connecting aircraft and ground systems to optimise the aircraft trajectory in three dimensions plus time[1]. Prepared by SESAR members (Airbus, Eurocontrol, Honeywell, Indra, NORACON[2] and Thales), a flight trial going from Toulouse to Copenhagen and then Stockholm, successfully validated the sharing of trajectory information[3] both in ground and airborne operations, and the capability of the aircraft to comply with time constraints in the en-route and approach phases of the flight. The flight trial further confirmed that i4D offers important safety and environmental gains, as well as increased flight predictability and overall network efficiency.


“Through this i4D flight trial, SESAR members are showing that the Programme’s research and development can bring about immediate and positive impact to Europe’s Air Traffic Management (ATM) system. This wouldn’t have been possible without the operational support and validation by pilots and air traffic controllers, who are making 4D trajectory management a reality. Thanks to their hard work, passengers will experience an enhanced travel experience, which is an important goal of the SESAR Programme,” says Claude Chêne, Executive Director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

Moving towards deployment

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The hated-loved airport security checkpoint

On 14/03/2014, in Battle stations, by steve

scanIn another age that we might call the age of innocence, only desperate people wanting to bequeath early their life insurance money to their family or wanting to pick up same coming from their wives or mother-in-law were thinking of blowing up airliners. Pilots and airlines were urging airports to forbid selling life insurance policies in the departure hall. In those days this was the top of what we would call to-day “security arrangements”. Insurance companies caught on quickly and made sure such crazy acts of destruction stopped being a lucrative business.

Bomb attacks on insurance basis against civil aviation all but stopped.

Of course the phenomenon of hijackings was another matter altogether. For a time, it was not unusual to hear about a hijacking event almost every month. By some accounts, the word “hijack” comes from prohibition era America where a member of one gang would stop the bootlegging truck of another gang, approaching the driver with a jovial “Hi, Jack” greeting before relieving him of his truck and the alcohol.
Whatever the origins, the word came to signify an act of directing an aircraft to fly to an airport it had no intention to visit originally.

Hijackers were sometimes people trying to escape from oppressive regimes from as diverse places as Hungary and Cuba while some were mentally unstable. Hijackings from the US to Cuba were at their peak in 1968-1969 with some 49 events registered by the authorities. There was even a famous joke about this guy on board a Delta flight to Miami bursting into the cockpit shortly after take-off and ordering the pilot to fly to Miami. But this is the flight to Miami counters the surprised skipper. I don’t care, says the man, I have been trying to get to Miami for over two weeks and each time ended up in Havana… Now we are going to Miami, he waved his gun.

Some hijackers were greeted as heroes in countries ruled by rogue regimes, others were sentenced to long prison terms… Clearly, the first step in solving this problem was achieving an international agreement that would discourage this type of piracy.

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Now you can join BluSky in the sky!

On 09/03/2014, in UAS, by steve

Our multimedia operations has justifiably earned itself a reputation for innovative products and new interpretations of old practices. They are now taking things a huge step further by offering views from the sky to add special flavors to company video, training material or just your wedding in the garden.


The drone (which is still to be given a name in the BluSky family) is a quadricopter with an incredible amount of intelligence built in.
When switched on, she takes a GPS measurement of the exact position she is at before signaling being ready for work. This is a vital piece of information. Should she fly out of the ground remote control’s range, she simply turns back and lands safely at the exact spot she took off from. Same procedure if she notes that her battery is running down. She refuses to fly beyond the point-of-no return and comes back to land before the batteries run out. Pretty cute.

But that is not all. When she goes into this “coming home” mode, she looks around to make sure there are no trees, buildings or other obstacles higher than her present height and if she finds anything, she will climb until a clear path to home is found.

The machine itself is fully gyro stabilized and can hoover or fly without any dipping and heaving. She also knows how to hoover over a designated point and will stay there even if the wind tries to move her away from the target.

Then the camera…

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Hello, it’s me.

On 09/03/2014, in Airline corner, by steve

rageIf we are not careful, soon this type of announcement will be the most common thing we might hear while enjoying our plastic meal and zero-legroom comfort on most airline flights. This is about allowing you to use your phone for making and receiving calls on board.

A bit off topic, but I will say right for starters that the most important safety equipment I would make mandatory in cars is a little box that would render the voice and SMS functions of cellphones inoperative  while they were in motion. Seeing all those idiots slowing down, speeding up, swerving from lane to lane on the motorways, one does not even have to think whether he or she is drunk or has fallen asleep. Quite the contrary, they are either chatting away happily with (if we are lucky) one hand on the wheel or, even worse, they are writing text messages as if they were at home in the comfort of their armchairs. I do not know what level of brain damage is necessary for this kind of behavior but just think of what such monkeys will do if they are allowed to use their phones in flight.

Making a call to mom or the kids while on the shuttle from Boston to New York is nothing new of course. Seat-back phones have been a feature on many aircraft in the United States but the price of the call meant people used them sparingly and there was also an unsaid code of conduct in operation, preventing those making a call from also waking up everyone around them. Even most important, you could not receive calls via that system.

For a time the travelling public was spared the pain of having to listen to cellphone ringtones and chit-chat by virtue of the, otherwise totally groundless, fear that electronic equipment could interfere with aircraft systems. With PED’s (Personal Electronic Devices) now being released from the shackles, the debate over whether or not phones may be used for making and receiving voice calls has broken out in all its ferocity.
In the US, the three federal institutions that had to state a position on this are the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

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Who benefits from ATM trade shows?

On 08/03/2014, in Events, by steve

ToothlessThe 2014 World ATM Congress has just closed its doors and like in other years, it left me with a nagging question. What is this jamboree about? The question is especially relevant since this new-fangled congress, under the auspices of CANSO and ATCA, is now in its second year and a comparison with its predecessor, ATC Global (now having been chased to Beijing) is also in order.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the venue of the Congress. The conference center in Madrid is world-class and Madrid itself is a wonderful city, so it was a good choice. The news that the congress will take place in the Spanish capital for at least another three year was a welcome one for sure.

But if we put the gathering and its events under the microscope, an interesting and disturbing “deja vu” feeling emerges.

Sure, the presentations and speeches are all there but the problem is not with what they say but what remains unsaid. Just like at ATC Global.

Of course it is nice to hear the party line repeated for the hundredth time and for someone wanting only an upbeat view of the future, this is just a fare they want. The theme of this year’s congress was “Delivery”… how stakeholders can work better to deliver. In the opening address, CANSO boss Jeff Pool said: without better regulation that positively drives performance, without ANSPs being allowed to operate like normal businesses and without working together to break down current barriers to global harmonization, we will not get anywhere. Nice words and I could not agree more. The problem is, they have a horribly musty smell…

Here is an interesting piece of text:

“At the fifth meeting of ECAC Transport Ministers (MATSE/5) in Copenhagen on 14th February 1997, Ministers adopted an Institutional Strategy for Air Traffic Management (ATM) in Europe and decided that the revised Convention, which was signed later in 1997, would be the legal instrument for the implementation of the ECAC ATM Institutional Strategy.
In addition, the Ministers requested a proposal for a comprehensive, ‘gate-to-gate’ orientated ATM Strategy for the years 2000+ as a follow-up to the En-Route and Airport Strategies for the 1990s. The ATM 2000+ Strategy follows on from the ECAC Strategies for the 1990’s. “

If you read the book that was the consequence of the above decision (just Google ATM2000+ Strategy), you will find something very interesting. Although there is no talk about horrors like the FAB or SESAR, or the less horroristic ICAO ASBUs, everything that is being promoted to-day, including at conferences like this one, as new and the saving of the ATM world has in fact been included in that strategy…

As I mentioned, the problem is not what is being said in the presentation. The problem is what is being left unsaid and thereby create the impression that we are on the threshold of the brave new ATM world. Just wait a few more months or years…

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