SESAR at ATC Global 2011 – Connecting vision with reality

On 09-03-2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Roger-Wilco was given a special opportunity to interview SESAR’s Chief Program Officer on the occasion of ATC Global 2011 and in particular in connection with SESAR Release 1, being presented as the most important SESAR deliverable for the year.

Florian Guillermet talks to editor Steve Zerkowitz.

Roger-Wilco: Looking at the details of SESAR Release 1, one sees that this is basically a very big and complex validation exercise. We have seen such things, even if possibly not on this scale, in past programs like EATCHIP and ATM2000+.Regrettably, not much came from those… What is the difference now, what makes everyone confident that this time things will work out better?

Mr. Guillermet: There are three important differences compared with past exercises:

• Clearly defined scope
• Clearly defined time-frame
• Close control by the SJU

Let me explain. The operational concept of SESAR is very ambitious and it can only be achieved if there is a clear focus on what has to be done and in what time frame. The elements of Release 1 have been carefully selected to ensure an initial maturity level that lends itself to development to a pre-industrialization state. This selection process was carefully controlled by the SJU so no pet-projects, be it on an organizational or personal level, were allowed in if they did not meet the agreed, stringent selection criteria.

The performance of the exercises will also be closely monitored with a first review session being planned for June this year. Around January, February 2012 we will be able to assess what has been achieved.

I would like to especially point out that the SJU has the means to change or even shut down projects which do not perform in line with the expectations, whether in terms of content or timeliness. We have actually used these powers in the past and will do so again if necessary.

There are two additional aspects that I would mention and which make Release 1 more promising than anything done in the past. If you look at the map of the Release and the list of activities, you will see that they all tie together. Those are not local bits and pieces but parts of the big picture, elements required by the Concept of Operations, now being validated for the first time.

We have also seen in the past that R&D activities were often too far removed from daily operations, focusing only on the big picture as it were. In our validations to-day we look at things as much as possible in the real-life context.

Roger-Wilco: I was surprised to see that in the list of organizations participating in the different validation actions, not a single airspace user is mentioned. Are they on board and if yes, why were they not specifically listed? In trials like the FAA’s Louisville exercise, the prominent presence of UPS Airlines was an important element for credibility…

Mr. Guillermet: The participation of the airspace users in all aspects of SESAR is a given. Obviously, their involvement is not on the same level in each of the projects but the airspace users in the widest sense of the word are certainly contributing via their experts.

In terms of Release 1, you must see it as part of a process, the first time something like this is being done with such clear scope and closely controlled time-frames. The organizations listed (ANSPs, Airbus) have put in place everything that was needed for the given validations but actual airline involvement, like that of UPS in Louisville, is not on the agenda yet. We had to be careful not to oversell Release 1. It would have been wrong to raise expectations beyond what is realistically achievable and what is actually in the scope of this important release.

Next year, with Release 2 where we will be looking at elements of Performance Based Navigation (PBN), more visible and direct involvement of airlines will of course be an important part of the exercise. That is where actual flights will also play an important role. As you know, going from real time simulations to live trials is always a difficult step but we will be taking that step in a big way starting with Release 2.

Roger-Wilco: One other aspect of concern is the level of commitment to actually implement the things being trialed in SESAR… Are we in a better position than in the past?

Mr. Guillermet: I think yes, we are. Take the example of NATS for instance. They now have a well defined internal task to integrate SESAR results into their plans. I am sure that the other service providers are approaching SESAR in a similar way.

Roger-Wilco: We continue to hear from various sources that although ANSPs as organizations are supportive of what SESAR is doing, on the operational level the support is far less positive. Are controllers still not convinced?

Mr. Guillermet: We have made a lot of effort to ensure the closest possible involvement of people on the operational levels and to increase their buy-in. I think that they are now better informed and closer to the essence of the project than ever before. At the same time we recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done to further raise this support.

I think that the partnership we are now working in is bearing fruit also in this respect. We can discuss frankly with the partners any problem we perceive and they do usually act to remedy the situation.

Roger-Wilco: This year’s ATC Global had as its slogan: Separating the vision from the reality. Personally I thought this was the wrong message… How does SESAR approach the vision and the reality?

Mr. Guillermet: I do not know who came up with this slogan… In SESAR, the vision and the reality are built on each other. A project always starts (or should…) with a vision which is then developed into something that can be realized. Of course the vision may change slightly over time but you never separate the vision from reality. You connect the vision and reality. That is how we work in SESAR.

The Roger-Wilco editor (left) and Mr. Guillermet (right) after the interview

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