A-CDM is Coming to Toronto!

On 31/08/2016, in CDM, by steve

I am sure many of you know the old saying which warns us aviation types that an aircraft must always be treated with the utmost respect or else it will turn and bite you or worse.


When we first landed at Toronto Pearson International airport, looking around it occurred to me that not only aircraft must be treated with utmost respect, but also airports. Five runways, 99 airlines, Canada’s busiest airport, two terminals, numbered 1 and three (where was T2 I remember asking back then). A major airport by any measure and it was almost impossible to believe that BluSky Services, as a certified supplier to SITA, was being charged with the development of all the documents this big airport would need to decide whether or not A-CDM would bring them benefits. The matter was of the utmost urgency since demand at the airport is growing at a phenomenal rate and without effective measure to make the operation more efficient, the growth would be severely constrained by the lack of capacity.

We arrived on the scene with more than 15 years’ experience in CDM and this includes solid knowledge of why A-CDM is not performing as well as it might in Europe. I will not go into the details of why this is so, let it suffice to say that there is nothing wrong with the concept itself… At the same time, the folks in Toronto insisted that we should make sure their CDM would not suffer any of the same problems seen in Europe.

This work was especially interesting for us at BluSky for the exact same reason. We have not been idle during the past few years and built, based on the original CDM concept, a totally new approach which enables a much clearer and detailed look into the processes involved in CDM, their effects on the trajectories of the aircraft concerned and which makes it possible to define the solutions in terms of business services. This in turn improves scalability, functional flexibility and provides several opportunities to reduce implementation costs across the enterprise. In Europe this approach has not been taken up yet even though we had written it up in no less than two projects (Level4CDM and TITAN). But Toronto wanted this very approach, resulting in an A-CDM system that avoids the pitfalls and is the best possible version for Pearson Airport.

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Why is Airport CDM Struggling in Europe?

On 19/08/2016, in CDM, by steve

Have you had recently experience with your flight arriving at a European destination airport on time and then waiting for its gate to become available? Or waited in a queue of aircraft before the runway… Chances are, you did and most probably this was taking place at an airport which carries the title CDM Airport. You know, a CDM Airport is one that satisfies specific requirements, among them the sending of DPI (Departure Planning Information) messages. There are 20 of those in Europe and from daily practice it would appear that not all of them are equally “CDM”…

Talk to the airlines, and the picture they paint is even grimmer. The presentation IATA made at the Airport CDM forum in September 2015 contained a shopping list of problems, some of which were hotly contested by the ANSPs present but the fact remains (and is proven day in and day out), A-CDM in Europe is delivering results that are far from uniform across the airports concerned.

The picture is further colored by the contents of a document, published by EUROCONTROL in April 2016, entitled Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) Impact Assessment. This document brings an interesting set of data showing that A-CDM works. Unfortunately, the data is rather generic and it is not always possible to discern how different places perform. Even more to the point, there is nothing in this document to suggest that there is anything negative at all. One almost gets the feeling that any negative findings of the study forming the basis of the impact assessment got left out by some accident. Or, the study did not find any… Think what you want but with the IATA list of shortcomings in hand, it is difficult to understand how the study could have missed the same problems.

One thing is certain. The CDM concept is sound and it works if properly implemented and maintained. But then, what could be wrong? What is causing the differences between the results if the different CDM airports?

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About A-CDM Round the Coffee Table – Trajectory, Processes, Services and other Bits and Pieces for the Stout-hearted Only

On 16/08/2016, in CDM, by steve

This is the third part of the A-CDM high level series in which we dwell into some surprising detail and new interpretations of old things. You can find the first article here and the second here.

In the previous two articles we had a look at the history and overall principles of Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM), a new way of working being introduced at airports world-wide. Now we will take a deep breath and dig a bit deeper into the intricacies of this concept and working method.

Please, do not stop reading here… I promise you this article is going to be interesting, even enjoyable, reading and quite possibly even bring a few new insights into the aviation world we all like to think we know so well.

I guess nobody will argue about the fact that as an airport or an airline we all work in order to facilitate the journey of the passengers who use our facilities and services. We are also businesses, meaning that we need to generate revenue and a decent profit, as the case may be. We have all kinds of business tools we use to achieve  this and perhaps the most spectacular and visible of these are the airport terminals and the aircraft around it. We tend to think that airlines are in the business flying aircraft, a perception that is of course true, but it is only a part of the whole picture.

If we take a helicopter view of an airline’s operations, we will discover that they are in fact running a carefully balanced network of flights which was constructed to make sure that passengers get the service they require… or something very close to it anyway. As long as aircraft in the network fly as planned, the service to the passengers is being delivered and the business is running smoothly. Disrupt the network and things go haywire in a very short time. Weather, mechanical problems, airport capacity, you name it, are all factors that can result in network disruption. This in turn means financial losses, poor passenger experience and a lot of extra workload to get things back to normal.

Of course the airports and the airlines are in this together and a network disruption at a given airline will quickly impact the airport also since the airport’s resources are used by several clients and the planning of those resources is as finely tuned as the airline network itself.

Let me introduce here something we call the aircraft trajectory.

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About A-CDM Round the Coffee Table – Where did it come from and how does it work?

On 16/08/2016, in CDM, by steve

This is the second part of the A-CDM series in which we will look at its history and get some more insight into how it works. You can find the first part here.

In the previous article we explored the essence of Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) and what it means for an airport that decides to implement it. Now it is a good time to go back in history and look at the origins of collaborative decision making. History is a great teacher and this is true also for the history of A-CDM.

A bit over two decades ago, airlines in the United States were increasingly dissatisfied with the way air traffic management worked or rather, failed to work as they saw it. Representations to the FAA did not bring the improvements they sought, so they got together and under the leadership of US Airways they started looking into the various problems they encountered in daily operations, determined to dig up the root causes and do something about them.

Although a lot of people expected to find things that would fault the FAA for the less than satisfactory state of affairs, what they found was very different. Sure enough, there was plenty that the FAA could have done better, but that venerable organization was by far not the only one contributing to the problems. To a surprisingly large extent, the behavior of the airlines themselves needed to be improved if the problems were to disappear. Airports were also found to be one of the causes of the operational difficulties.

Before we look more closely at two actual and very typical early cases of collaborative decision making success, it is worthwhile to highlight that in general, the airline investigation revealed that the aviation industry was generating prodigious amounts of information but very little of that information was being shared among the partners while most of the information was in fact essential if good operational decisions were to be made. The world appeared to be composed of silos, each partner working in their own closed environment irrespective of the fact that decisions in the silos impacted all the siloes individually and together. To illustrate the point, let me quote Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher (1788-1860) who had famously said “You can compare ordinary society with Russian horn music, where each horn has only one note to play, and only the punctual coinciding of all results is music.” Now replace “society” with “air traffic management decision making” and you will see what I mean. The silos of old produced very little music and a lot of noise… it was this noise the airlines noticed when they set out to improve things wishing to hear more music and less noise.

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About A-CDM Round the Coffee Table – The High Level Principles

On 16/08/2016, in CDM, by steve

I have written about A-CDM quite a lot on these pages. However, time is passing and I see that there is a complete new generation of experts who have not been exposed to the peculiar convolutions that gave birth to Airport Collaborative Decision Making or A-CDM. There are experts in the young generation who are of course familiar with A-CDM, some of them are actually working in or with it… but there are others who may have seen the acronym but did not progress beyond wondering what it really meant. So, I decided to share with you three articles that look at various aspects of A-CDM, strictly on a high level and without looking at specifics like how A-CDM works in Europe using the message exchange with the Network Manager. We will come back to that at some future date, but for the time being here are the three articles that help you understand the concept itself and shed some light on how it brings its benefits. Enjoy!

We all know the feeling… something untoward happens and we sigh: if only I had known! Although we plan everything to the last detail, even the life of an airport is not free from events that happen and which could have been avoided or at least mitigated… if only we had known.

The keyword here is predictability. If the operation of an airport, and in particular the predictability of the aircraft turnaround is improved, impending problems become visible earlier and there is more time to agree action together, to mitigate the problems or avoid them altogether.

The other keyword is together. All too often in the existing environment partners scramble to address problems alone or only with minimum contact with each other when in fact everything they do is part of a common effort and when it is time to solve a problem, acting together is even more important.

Airport Collaborative Decision Making, or A-CDM, is a new way of working. Extensive sharing of information, acting on the shared information and making decisions together, mindful of the impact the decisions have on the operation of the partners, substantially improves the predictability of the airport’s operation while decisions made together are of a much better quality, resulting in a quantum leap of efficiency.

Who are these partners? The airlines, handling organizations, air traffic control and  the airport operator are the main players in A-CDM, a concept being introduced, or in operation, at several airports world-wide.

Click here to read the full article


Trajectory based operations… for passengers in the terminal and beyond

On 18/02/2015, in CDM, by steve

Not long ago we were in the middle of a brainstorming session at the HQ of a partner company and in the middle of our discussions suddenly a picture popped into my mind. It was so outlandish that at first I tried to push it away and focus on the issues at hand. But the idea refused to go away. In fact it was clamoring for attention. It was all about symmetry.

When you look at an airport, one way to picture it is that it is in the middle, the focal point of a huge number of aircraft milling around, all determined to land while on the side it is the focus of a huge number of passengers milling around, determined to find their way to their respective aircraft.

In air traffic management we are moving away from the old concept of managing individual aircraft by looking at current position plus +/- 20 minutes to what is called TBO, trajectory based operations. You can read more about TBO in my articles here and here. I will explain a few things below but coming back to the passenger terminal, would it be possible to use the methods and experience gained with TBO also for managing the flow of passengers? By considering each and every one of them being on a trajectory that represents the best outcome for the passenger, the airport and the airline concerned and interceding whenever there is a deviation from this optimal trajectory. Just like we do with aircraft.

Sounds crazy? Well, bear with me a little longer before passing judgment.

First of all let’s agree on a definition of the word “trajectory”. For the purposes of this article, I will suggest that we say a trajectory is the path in the air or on the ground along which an object passes or planned to pass. Obviously, this object can be an aircraft… or a passenger. The trajectory is hence defined in 4 dimensions. We have the 3 spatial dimensions and the fourth dimension is time. There is also a fifth dimension, the economic value of the trajectory to the airline. This is a virtual dimension but its value is important in decision making (which flight to delay for example).

Where does the aircraft trajectory commence?

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Not all CDM Courses are Created Equal

On 29/12/2014, in CDM, by steve

courseWhen the concept of Collaborative Decision Making was first defined in the United States and subsequently brought over to Europe, it was hailed as one of the cheapest effective ways of improving air traffic management efficiency. We have always stressed that CDM was not a system but a way of working… As years passed, this basic truth was pushed into the background with CDM becoming a rather expensive and often ineffective “product” that many companies viewed as the next cow to be milked for their profit. CDM almost died in the process.

Luckily a few enlightened organizations, including airports and air navigation service providers, went back to the roots and defined CDM in terms that were very close to the original idea and hence they were able to restore the credibility of CDM. This entailed also that only those companies genuinely interested in making decision making better remained in the field.

Europe has booked a number of notable successes in CDM implementation but in spite of that, take-up of CDM in the world was, and continues to be, rather slow. The reasons for this are many but one of them is definitely the fact that people still not convinced of the benefits of CDM are hard pressed to get good, reliable and credible information on the subject.

If you Google “CDM course”, you will be faced with a bewildering choice of courses claiming to tell you all about CDM and why it is the best thing since sliced bread. The range of prices is also incredibly wide…

Closer examination of the courses on offer will reveal, with a few notable exceptions, two things: first, they are more or less based on the original CDM course that was created for EUROCONTROL many years ago and second, they use the European CDM implementations as the proof that CDM works.

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ATRiCS’ Predeparture Sequencing System in Operation at Stuttgart Airport

On 23/11/2014, in CDM, by steve

On 17 November 2014, Stuttgart Airport became the 13th airport to receive Eurocontrol certification for A-CDM and is now operating as a fully compliant A-CDM Airport.


The ATRiCS Pre-Departure Sequencer (PDS) a core logic module of the A-CDM system has been in service at Stuttgart Airport since 22 July 2014. It is a critical module of the Resource Management System provided by the company INFORM and its subcontractor topsystem. After a successful trial period, the system connected to the Network Manager on 24 September 2014.

Stuttgart Airport joins a pedigree group of leading airports including Frankfurt Airport and Düsseldorf Airport who have been running the ATRiCS Pre-Departure Sequencer successfully in their operations for years now.

Nico Ruwe, project manager Airport CDM, Stuttgart Airport said: “During the test phase the ATRiCS PDS performed to our full satisfaction. It is reliable, robust and stable. We are now not only contributing to the efficiency improvement in the European airspace, but can also confidently expect better predictability in flight operations”.

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Vedi Napoli e poi muori… or introduce Collaborative Decision Making (CDM)!

On 12/04/2014, in CDM, by steve

When you arrive in Naples, Italy, even on a Sunday evening, you are likely to spend the first 20 minutes trying to convince yourself that neither the taxi driver nor the other Naples motorists are actually trying to kill you. They are just driving the… well, Naples way. Once over this hurdle, you suddenly realize that the distance we keep between moving cars even in Brussels is a huge waste of space. Up to 30 miles an hour 2 inches will do, above, increase this to 3. The shock passes quickly however and in no time at all you start enjoying this wonderful city and its people who are full of smiles.


I was not coming for a holiday though but to deliver a Collaborative Decision Making course ordered by Gesac, the company operating Naples International Airport. The course, selected from Airsight’s training catalogue, is based on our signature CDM course material, updated to reflect the most recent thinking about collaborative decision making and also the most likely future directions. This course is being delivered world-wide and has justifiably earned acclaim from Airsight’s many clients.

I was preparing for this course delivery with special care and anticipation. Not only was this the first time the course was coming to Italy but we also knew that Gesac had very high expectations from it.

Gesac provided excellent facilities for the course. Monday morning everything was ready to go, including the computer and the beamer which all worked right from the start. 15 participants were registered for the course and they were all there on time, clearly expecting the four days we would be spending together to be both useful and fun. It was up to me to make their expectations come true…

Naples sunshine for the group photo!

Naples sunshine for the group photo!

All the participants were from various departments of the airport operating company. Gesac’s 2014 training schedule focuses on operations and this is why CDM was included.

While performing the introductions, it was abundantly clear that Gesac is a company where quality and customer orientation both have very high priority and they are also determined to be among the best airports in Italy. It was explained that although Naples had not yet been designated by air navigation service provider ENAV as a candidate CDM airport like Rome, Milan and Venice, Gesac were convinced that CDM would potentially improve their operations and they will go it alone if necessary, bringing partners on board along the way by the strength of showing the actual benefits.

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A-CDM course delivered in Dubai

On 12/02/2013, in CDM, by steve

Our Airbus A340 had to be thoroughly de-iced before departure from Munich. Freezing rain was coating everything with a lethal sheet of ice and as I watched the vehicles moving around our aircraft as it almost disappeared in the steam rising from the wings and fuselage, I wondered whether the cherry-picker operators knew, or even cared, about the destination of this aircraft. After all, it was just one of the many departures from Munich that cold winter night.

It was different for me. BluSky Services had created the first Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) course for EUROCONTROL several years ago, followed by an updated version made for IATA a few years later. Our instructors had delivered this course all over the world and most A-CDM courses you find out there still have the structure and certain elements of our original work. However, this was the first time we would deliver such a course in Dubai.

The German company airsight was the contracting agent and I was traveling as director, implementation support for TotalCDM, a partner company focused on collaborative decision making in all its forms.

The course material had been updated and slightly restructured for the occasion, mainly to take account of the particular circumstances of the United Arab Emirates. Traffic demand is growing explosively in the region and flow management is practiced in a way reminiscent of Europe before the central flow management unit was established. Obviously, collaborative decision making both on the local airport level and even more on the network level is a particular challenge where air traffic control units and airports lack central coordination.

There were fifteen participants, representing Dubai Airports and Dubai Air Navigation Services with both engineering and operational folks among them. Although no airline or handling agent was represented, we tried to ensure that their particular viewpoints were adequately covered and discussed.

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