SESAR Interview – A Roger-Wilco Exclusive

On 23-02-2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

For the second year now, as part of the preparations for ATC Global in Amsterdam, Roger-Wilco editor Steve Zerkowitz has been granted an exclusive interview with an officer of SESAR. This time he talked with the JU’s Michael Standar, Chief Strategies and International Relations about the achievements and challenges of the SESAR Program.

Last year everyone was waiting for the details of Release 1. How far have the aims been achieved? Are there any problems? What is the impact on SESAR as a whole?

When the first list of potential Release 1 validation exercises was developed, it was fairly long.… Together with the members, we scrutinized each project as to its true potential of being ready for industrialization. These iterations resulted in a final approved Release 1 set of exercises with content deemed ready for real world validation. Even though this being a bottom-up process I believe through this process we did reach the aims set out for Release 1.

Of course one must also remember that Release 1, important as it is, primarily focusing on mature areas to prove industrialization readiness and not the whole Program; as such Release 1 was certainly a success within its limits.

In this context the “story” of IP1 is worth being mentioned. There too a number of the original IP1 OIs needed more SESAR R&D. Some people might say that a lot of the IP1 content included solutions that had been developed earlier. This is correct, but they nevertheless lacked a true validation in a real life environment with the necessary analysis and with the relevant stakeholder involvement. Another thing we had to realize was the need to approach the new features on an iterative basis. This is the best way to progress towards maturity. Take Initial 4D for instance. We will have three iterations starting in 2011 and then continuing in 2012 and 2013. These fit well with the target dates of the Master Plan also.

Another element of the Program that is an important candidate for iterative development is the remote tower concept. An excellent idea and something that is eminently feasible but in order to have a deployable product, we will have to go through a number of iterations to reach full maturity.

We have also seen that there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. The iterations do allow us to define the best fits for different environments while staying fully within the original spiral of development. This is a very cost effective approach to the development of the elements of a complex system like ATM.

In the meantime, Release 2 is on the table. What is the chief content? How is Release 2 progressing?

Release 2 will in fact be the continuation of Release 1, taking things one step further. The details of Release 2 will be presented at ATC Global in Amsterdam (and described also in Roger-Wilco right after the AMS presentation- Ed.) but in summary, there will be more of initial 4D, the remote tower, more interaction with the arrival manager, the controller working position, network operations and bringing things closer to the planning phase and coming closer to the airport, too. Controlled time of arrival in the airport context and the closer involvement of the AOC will also be part of Release 2.

Release 1 was essentially a bottom up exercise. We looked at the program and included those projects which were mature enough to ensure early benefits.

With Release 2 we follow a more top-down approach. It is based on what was identified as needed for European ATM.

Release 3 will be looking even more at the key performance areas. This does not mean a change to the program as such. What is changing is the focus to ensure that things are not driven by technologies looking for a problem…

Will there be a Release 3? Is the idea behind the “releases” sound and will things be followed up along those lines?

With ICAO having launched their ATM block upgrade program, we see that the global community is capitalizing on the approach in SESAR and NextGen, including the concept of focusing on different aspects, the blocks in the case of ICAO, to ensure the most effective upgrade path.

SESAR and ICAO are roughly 80 % identical in terms of the contents of the blocks and modules. There is however, still a mismatch in some of the timelines envisaged. This includes data communications services for example.

In Europe we are saying that we must have a clear global idea by 2018 of what the data communications environment will look like in the future. Some, including the US, tend currently to look for a later decision horizon.

In terms of the services and technology, we are thinking of ATN Baseline 2 services currently over 1090ES for ADS-B and VDL Mode 2 for ADS-C and CPDLC. This is a clear aim and we consider agreeing on the services more important than trying to go for new technologies which may or may not mature in time but the prospect of which may keep people from implementing what is available. Again it is about benefits and performance rather than technologies looking for a problem.

As a general principle, we are saying that it is the services that must be defined very precisely first and foremost. These will in turn drive the requirements to be posed against the technology… future or present.

Are the SESAR projects on time? Have the issues around some projects being too far ahead been resolved (cases where a project is dependent on another project which falls behind)?

The answer is yes and no. I think on the overall projects are on time where we need them to be on time. There are some issues with deliveries but we are trying to group projects in a logical manner, based for example on operational focus. If several of them need an operational description, this will be written only once and will then serve all the projects which are operationally interrelated.

We have established milestones and gates to be bale to have a close watch on progress and identify issues at an early stage. Of course in a complex program like this, you always have issues which need to be addressed.

We still have cases where a project progresses faster than the others on which it depends but now they know exactly how far they may go before they must stop and wait for the others. Especially when verification of something is needed, slamming on the brakes is the only option.

We do often see the discrepancies between technical requirements and operational requirements… Ops requirements put on the table are often seen by the engineers as not operational requirements at all. The validation exercises also helped technical and operational experts to better understand each other’s needs.

I may also mention the work undertook by the CONOPS group which has developed an excellent B level document containing operational scenarios. These make it really easy to extract requirements.

Have there been any significant changes to the original Concept of Operations?

The “original” Concept of Operations did not speak to all segments of the airspace user community. In order to rectify this, experts from the military, general aviation and rotorcraft were brought in and told to add their particular requirements. Of course they too tended to overemphasize their particular needs but in the end things were brought back into balance.

The end result is a CONOPS that is perhaps less airline oriented but it clearly does incorporate the needs of other sectors. I must stress however that this did not by any means reduce the content or the forward looking character of the original concept and the advanced features all remain.

What is the current airspace user involvement? Some think SESAR is an ANSP dominated project. What is being done to dispel that perception?

The involvement of airspace users has doubled since the early days and now they provide the equivalent of 20 full-time contributors participating across the work program as well as in validation exercises and flight demos.

Although the airline experts do provide excellent support to the Program, ATM is not always at the top of their agendas. They are important key players in the ConOps we are trying achieve and as such their active participation with views and opinions expressed constructively is a major success factor.

We are aware of the perception that SESAR is an ANSP dominated Program… However, there is no real limit on the amount of input the airspace users are allowed to provide but they have to make use of this to the full. I do realize that the airlines have few resources to spare but SESAR work must be given the priority it deserves. It is their future operations environment we are defining and we need to do it together.

We have had cases where projects actually said that they needed airspace user input before proceeding further…

Is there any chance of SESAR deployment being helped by public money (e.g. to equip aircraft)?

The issue of SESAR deployment is on the agenda of the Commission and we expect to have some news by the end of this year as to whether or not financial support will be made available and if yes, in what form. Different schemes and plans are possible and the jury is still out on what will happen.

The EC traffic-light report gave a rather somber picture about State readiness to implement the various elements of SES. Does this affect SESAR also?

The EC traffic light report is concerned mainly with the problems associated with the implementation of the FABs. While implementing the various elements of SESAR would appear to be easier in a well established FAB environment, there is no one to one correlation between the two activities. In any case, what we see is that the FABs are bringing the ANSPs together but the same thing is not true of the regulators. EASA is there of course as a European institution but the well known problems of national sovereignty still seem to prevail. At the same time we see that regulators are extremely supportive of SESAR.

I do not believe SESAR will have to contend with the same kind of problems the FABs have run into.

What is the current status of SWIM? Is there work ongoing concerning the institutional (i.e. non-engineering) aspects (like data ownership, etc.)?

We have had some problems with SWIM and as a result, it is slightly behind schedule. A SWIM action plan has been created about a year ago but even more important, we wrote a SWIM concept of operations to help in understanding what SWIM should really be doing.

It was also proposed to look at instances where SWIM-like functionality is already available like for instance the European AIS Database (EAD). Understanding how SWIM can improve existing and future processes is key to stakeholder buy-in but also to being able to design both the ground/ground and the air/ground-air/air SWIM implementations.

Issues of data ownership, payments, etc. are still on the table and will need to be discussed widely.

It is true that the institutional aspects of SWIM have not been tackled yet but we believe it is better to have a full understanding of SWIM and what it will do before the institutional aspects are looked into. But it is important that they be tackled ahead of, at least parallel with, the engineering aspects.

What other news would you like to share with Roger-Wilco’s readers?

A very useful element of SESAR is the so-called International Validation Team, composed of pilots, air traffic controllers and engineers coming from different companies and countries. They are working as individual experts and the cross-fertilization of ideas, new thinking and lively discussions provide invaluable input to the Program. Group members also highlight problems when they are not satisfied with something but this is not a forum for social dialogue, which is handled separately. This group is focused on professional matters only.

An important development since last year’s interview is the better connection between the Program and long-term research. The aim is to realize a true conveyor-belt process where ideas and long term research are placed on one end of the conveyor and new products ready for industrialization fall into place at the other. SESAR is not only the belt but also the motor driving it.

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