On 27-06-2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve
If you follow European air traffic management developments, you will have noticed in the news that the ATM Master Plan is undergoing a significant update and the SESAR ATM Master Plan portal promises to have new information on this by mid-2012. About now that is…
There was less discussion about interesting events surrounding the Master Plan update. The original draft updated ATM Master Plan was so poor, the airlines at first proposed that IATA should not support this new version.
As we all know, flatly refusing to support such a cornerstone document does not happen lightly and there must have been serious shortcomings to upset the airspace users so much. Of course it says a lot about the current environment that a Master Plan update, even if only as a draft, can be released at all while containing information that has the potential to rattle the airspace users to this degree.
But what were the real problems as seen by the users?
Let’s first start with a bit of history. As you will see, the background facts are slightly more somber than the rather upbeat news communicated over the official channels during the Master Plan update process.
The high-level Single European Sky (SES) goals are the drivers for and justification of investing in the SES vision. SESAR, as the technology pillar, will only deliver a part of the capabilities required to achieve the high-level goals and originally the ATM Master Plan had been written to reflect the SESAR technology part and not the totality of the SES.
The airspace users had supplied wide ranging critique, comments and proposals aimed at improving the updated Master Plan when it was released for informal consultation. These however were met with either rejection or a response that was not acceptable. This is no news, we had seen in the SESAR definition phase also how ANSPs did their best to keep the drive of the airspace users for advanced features from finding a place in the concept of operations.
When the updated Master Plan hit the street for formal consultation, it was judged simply unacceptable by the airspace users. Three critical issues were identified.
One, the Master Plan redefined the SES high-level goals; two, there was no robust and credible Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) and third, the Master Plan failed to explain how a synchronized deployment will be achieved. These three issues were seen as sufficient reason for refusing to support the new Master Plan.
It is interesting to have a look at these issues in a bit more detail.
The SES high-level goals and the original Master Plan both identified 2020 as the date by which the goals must be achieved. The new draft ATM Master Plan would shift the target date from 2020 to a point in time in the future when traffic levels will have doubled, taking 2005 as the baseline. This is estimated to happen in 2033!
Well, any project manager who tried to bring in a cool 13 year delay to the realization of benefits would probably be looking for a new job the day after he or she announced this, especially if they had failed to consult with the clients… as was the case with the Master Plan. Apparently the fact that, among other benefits, the 50 % reduction of user charges would come only 13 years later than planned and the costs associated with this, were not seen as warranting checking with the airspace users before being put into the draft…
Evidently, the new Master Plan had no intention any more to keep the SES high-level goals as its own goals… However, if that is indeed the case, there is no more outside pressure to keep SESAR on the straight and narrow path originally defined. The alternative would be slow death like all other European ATM projects before it.
The Master Plan is criticized on several accounts also because there is no acceptable CBA. The CBA assumptions were not provided, the CBA is limited to scheduled operations with no Net Present Values (NPV) available for airports, ANSPs and other stakeholders (which will impact the charges that need to be taken into account in the scheduled operations NPVs), the sensitivity analysis is one-dimensional and lacks detail… and so on and on and on. Of course, after a 13 year slippage of the benefits, the least one can expect is a poor CBA…
The mismatch between ground and airborne equipage requirements and the target dates has been an issue for decades with aircraft ending up carrying expensive boxes for years before the ground caught up and benefits would start to accrue. That even under SES things are not as they should be is amply demonstrated by the mandate that requires both ground and air to equip with air/ground digital link and CPDLC capability but does NOT mandate its use. The capacity benefits of CPDLC come only if it is actually used and if the matter is left to the controller’s discretion, no extra capacity can be declared… so the whole thing is useless.
When the Master Plan moved to describing deployment in terms of steps rather than specific dates, the crucial linkage between ground and airborne equipage was all but lost. What happens inside particular steps is anybody’s guess.
Another issue with the Master Plan was that it did not address the relationship with other developments, for instance with the FABs. Obviously it is not possible to create a credible CBA if the environment in which the SESAR deployment will take place is not taken sufficiently into account and even less if it is totally ignored, as it happened in the draft Master Plan.
With the Master Plan draft debacle, the airspace users realized also that even with the SES high-level goals being left unchanged, their achievement in full by the originally stipulated 2020 deadline was now highly questionable. Déjà vue EATCHIP and ATM2000+?
Like so many times in the past, the airlines are now going back to the drawing board to develop a set of new, still challenging but realistic set of goals with which to nudge states and the European Commission (EC)… They will also include proposals for penalties for non-delivery.
Obviously, the SESAR JU and the Commission were less than thrilled when news of the airspace user position was communicated to them. Turning down the Master Plan by the airspace users would be tantamount to open war and this was to be avoided at all costs.
Intense lobbying by the airspace users resulted in a proposal by the Commission. This could be summarized as follows:
– The 2020 high-level goals are to be reinstated;
– A new CBA will be created… some time in 2013;
– Synchronization will be addressed but…
Having the 2020 goals in again is a good thing. That they will only come with a new CBA in 2013 is no surprise, this is a CBA you do not create overnight. What they will come up with remains to be seen of course. The response to the third item is very interesting. The Commission proposed to conduct a good financial analysis and robust sensitivity testing of various scenarios, where deployment is not synchronized. Obviously, this kind of proof is important but with so much pain caused in the past by ground and airborne equipage mismatches, one is tempted to say: if you still need proof, you do not belong here…
For the airspace users, this response was a mixed blessing. It was enough to stop the outright dropping of the Master Plan but was far from being a real answer to all their concerns.
What will happen next?
The matter will go to the SESAR Admin Board meeting on 3 July where they will, in all likelihood, send the Master Plan back for revision, involving the inclusion of the EC proposal described above. Then comes another draft…
The final twist in this matter? The Commission will have to take their proposal also to the Single Sky Committee (SSC). Guess who was the originator of the 13 year shift to the future… yes, you are right. The SSC.