Wake-up call

On 30/01/2016, in SESAR's Palace, by cleo

FrustrationReading the news coming out of Europe’s premier money burner program, SESAR, is always entertaining but when they reinvent the wheel, it is especially so. Never mind that they work with a Master Plan for the future ATM in Europe that keeps repeating things strategy documents 15 years ago were already showing as urgently needed, they have now discovered the need for a next generation communications system that we knew was essential since 1994.

A consortium led by ENAV and composed of Aena, Airbus, Air France, DFS, DSNA, EasyJet, LFV, Lufthansa, NATS, SITA and the University of Salzburg have concluded that the technology currently mandated for air/ground digital link in Europe, VDL Mode 2, will only cut it for a time with four frequencies but even then, it is highly recommended to “prioritise the development of the next generation of datalink technology within SESAR”.

SESAR woke up to the need to do something as a result of the problems encountered with the current implementation of VDL Mode 2 and the resulting hick ups in CPDLC usage. It is commendable that they have reacted and the conclusions of the study are to be welcomed. The proposal to resolve the current problems to ensure that the usage of VDL Mode 2 can be assured for a reasonable length of time is of course the right one, after all, the airlines have invested heavily in this technology and so far have had zero benefits. The recommendation to start working on a next-generation communications system is even more welcome.

What the news fails to mention is that the proposal to start working on a new system has been around for decades and in fact EUROCONTROL had started to work on such a system, work which was relegated to the dust bin when the powers that be decided to kill EUROCONTROL in favor of the brave new world centered on SESAR.

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Charlotte Leads in NextGen Air Traffic Improvements

On 18/01/2016, in NextGen, by steve

North Carolina was “first in flight” when the Wright Brothers took to the skies at Kitty Hawk, and now it’s leading the way to the next generation of air traffic control. NextGen procedures are helping flights operate more efficiently at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), improving on-time performance and decreasing emissions. 


The Charlotte Metroplex project includes new arrival and departure procedures for CLT and surrounding airports in North Carolina, South Carolina and southern Virginia. Procedural changes in Charlotte are at altitudes between 3,000 and 14,000 feet and do not affect the airport’s voluntary noise abatement procedures. 


Metroplex initiatives such as this are a key element of the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control modernization, which is replacing decades-old ground-based navigation with more precise procedures based on satellite navigation. Similar projects are in place or underway in 12 major metropolitan areas nationwide.  


Based on July 2015 data, the FAA estimates the changes in Charlotte will result in 28,000 fewer metric tons of carbon in the air each year, which is equivalent to removing more than 5,000 cars from the road. Airlines will consume 3.3 million fewer gallons of aircraft fuel, valued at about $9.4 million.  

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Inside Unmanned Systems Magazine

On 15/01/2016, in Bookshelf, by steve

UASIn the mid-eighties I was working as a Technical Officer, Rules of the Air and Search and Rescue in the European Office of ICAO in Paris. One of the recurring, though private, tasks was every month to drop in the corner press shop and pick up the latest editions of the various personal computer magazines. Some of you may remember that back then we had the BBC computer, the MSX, ZX, and many others, including the IBM PC… They were incompatible platforms, each with its own quirks and “biosphere” of dedicated fans. Each group believed that their favorite was going to be the personal computer of the future and few could foresee the IBM PC and Microsoft stealing the show.

In the office we were avid readers of those magazines and even though each of us was in a different camp, the fascination of what computing could potentially bring to aviation kept us on an even keel and the discussions were mainly on the technology in general rather than the different platforms that brought us that technology.

The stellar development of computing since those early days is well known now and one of the best mileposts of where we have come is without any doubt the quarterly magazine, Inside Unmanned Systems.

Their editorial mission is to provide actionable business intelligence to decision makers and influencers operating within the dynamic global UAS community. Analysis of key technologies, independent reports on the latest policy and regulatory developments and evaluation of new product designs and applications support the results of which stakeholders need to succeed across the commercial, civil and defense sectors.

Opening this magazine, I always get a feeling of nice déjà vu… A computer magazine to-day has a sort of mature feel to it, it is not exactly boring but you do not really expect surprises to pop up on its pages. The computer magazines of the 80s were very different… They were dealing with developments that jumped ahead month after month and made the reader wonder with bright eyes just where it would all go if progress kept on like this.

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Sweating Blood

On 15/01/2016, in View from the left seat, by phil

“Bermuda, Bermuda, Speedbird 312.”

“Speedbird 312, go ahead,” replied Bermuda Air Traffic Control.

“Bermuda, Speedbird 312, climbing through level 170. The thunderstorms ahead lie right across our track. We can’t see any gaps, can’t climb above them, we’ll have to deviate well south of track. We need to turn onto heading 240.”

“OK Speedbird, there’re no other aircraft in the vicinity. You’re clear to deviate south as far as necessary. Report when able to resume course.”

It was autumn 1963. Our Britannia turboprop was flying empty – no passengers, only the crew on board. We had left Bermuda well before dawn and were climbing on our way west towards Richmond, in Virginia, to pick up a group of American tourists who had chartered the aircraft for a holiday in Bermuda. No one had told them Bermuda was not the sunny Caribbean island the posters suggested it was. In fact, it was due to receive a deluge in a few hour’s time!

Photo: BOAC

Photo: BOAC

On the Met forecast at flight briefing, we had seen the front lying across our intended track and had discussed how best to get round it. A deepening low had left New York and was moving out into the Atlantic. A vigorous cold front stretched down nearly as far as The Bahamas, off Florida. The thunder tops were reported to be well above 35,000ft. There was no way a Britannia, designed in the late ‘40s, and first flown in 1952, could climb that high. We would have to set off and see if there was a way around.

Passing 18,000ft, the captain banked towards the south and settled the aircraft onto its new heading. “What’s the heading now skipper?” I asked.

“230. We’ll stay on that for a while, I’ll tell you when we change.” He turned back to the radar searching for a gap in the massive wall of clouds ahead.

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Data… Information… Power

On 07/01/2016, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

informationThat information is power has been known for ages. It is not by accident that various religions, among others, have tried to keep their subjects in the dark. Knowledge acquired from information was dangerous. People with access to information tended to get all kinds of ideas that were better be left alone. In our connected world, keeping information from people is not that easy any more (though some countries will try to do just that…) and if anything, there is too much information around, we hear some folks complaining.

But is there such a thing as too much information? And what does this all mean in the world of aviation?

First of all, we need to clarify something. What do we mean by information? Is data and information synonymous? To fully understand the power of information we need to understand these concepts and also agree on their meaning.

Data is what we generate when, for example, we measure something. Take the position of an aircraft in flight. The position at any given moment in time can be expressed in five dimensions. There are the three spatial dimensions (geographical coordinates plus level), the time dimension (shows the time the other three dimensions are true) and the fifth dimension is the economic value of the flight for the aircraft operator. Though not always used as yet, this last is an expression of the costs and revenues the flight represents compared to other flights in the network of the operator. A flight with lots of connecting passengers represents a higher economic value than one with no connection passengers. If the former is late, it incurs costs that have to be avoided… you get the picture?

Of course when we take a given point representing the position of an aircraft, the five dimensions are nothing more than a heap of numbers.

This is data, not information.

Information is data put in context. Put the same data into different contexts and you will see that the information that emerges is very different, in other words it is context dependent. What does not change is that the different information resulting from the same data will always refer to the same reality.

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Quote of January

On 01/01/2016, in Quote of the month, by steve

Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell.

Frank Borman



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