Is there a future for the FABs?

On 05/12/2012, in FAB News, by steve

In view of the huge effort that went into creating at least the legal framework for the nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) and the recent hard words from the industry blasting states and the European Commission for the failure of the FABs to deliver anything really useful by the December 4 deadline, the question in the title may sound peculiar.

However, it is not as outlandish as it may sound. Let’s give a closer look at what the FABs really are and then try to answer the question.

Europe has been struggling with its fragmented air traffic management system for decades. While the United States was handling a lot more traffic equally safely but at a much lower cost to the airlines, Europe was going from one failed ATM project to the other with mighty little to show for it. EATCHIP in several phases followed by ATM2000+, all filled with lofty aims and truly forward looking ideas… and all coming to a virtual halt because of the reluctance of European states to change the status quo.

The European Commission’s Single European Sky (SES) initiative was supposed to put the regulatory oomph behind the drive to repair European ATM but even that has proved to be lacking. SES I was followed by SES II…

This brings us to the famous Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB). Some like to present this idea as revolutionary but in fact the FAB concept was nothing more than an admission that Europe, as a whole, was incapable of agreeing on how to build a better ATM system and by reducing the task to more manageable chunks, it should work better. Of course things blew up right at the start… Instead of the 3 maximum 4 FABs Europe would ever need we ended up with nine (!), all created mainly on political grounds, clearly a poor start for what should have been a functional redistribution of European ATM.

Having basically adulterated the original FAB concept by increasing the number of FABs to nine, European ANSPs left the whole thing dormant for a couple of years and it took the European Commission some serious saber rattling before they started to build something… reluctantly at first then with more enthusiasm when they realized that the FAB concept is the perfect thing to hide behind and be rid of troublesome European requirements. If members of a given FAB agree on something that is different from what Europe as whole would need, that is too bad. It is not by accident that to this day, there is no effective working structure above the FABs to force them to work in harmony on a European level. The EC implementing rules cover certain aspects but as in the past, the devil is in the detail… and FABs rule there individually. The idea that EUROCONTROL is the network manager (with no real powers to do much) does not solve anything either.

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If the European Commission’s Implementing Rule is not enough to jump-start data link, what is?

On 14/11/2012, in SES News, by steve

At the recent meeting of the Project Steering Group on Data Link, it was revealed that some States will not be able to meet the 7 February 2013 date by which “all LINK Region ANSPs shall have implemented an operational compliant system”. One State actually reported that they will not be ready before 2019!

The Data Link Services Implementing Rule (DLS-IR) was adopted on 16 January 2009 by the European Commission and published as EC Reg. No. 29/2009. The DLS-IR is legally binding and applies directly to Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and to Aircraft Operators.

The main deadlines of the IR are as follows:

1 January 2011 – After this date all new aircraft operating above FL 285 shall be delivered with a compliant system.

7 February 2013 – By this date all LINK Region ANSPs shall have implemented an operational compliant system.

5 February 2015 – By this date all aircraft operating above FL 285 shall have been retrofitted with a compliant system.

5 February 2015 – By this date all EU Region ANSPs shall have implemented an operational compliant system.

31 December 2017 – Aircraft which are at least 20 years old and which will cease operation in the concerned airspace before 31 December 2017 are exempt.

1 January 2014 – Aircraft with individual airworthiness certificate before this date that are equipped with Future Air Navigation System (FANS) are exempt for the lifetime of the aircraft. Aircraft entering into service after 1 January 2014 shall comply with the rule.

1 January 2014 – New transport type State aircraft should comply with the rule if equipped with non-military data link.

Since 1 January 2011, all new aircraft are being delivered with VDL Mode 2/ATN compliant avionics and apparently, like so often in the past, they will be carrying their gear and burn the investment for no good reason at all, since the ground capability will not be in place.

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Commission Report Puts the Lie to Claims that ATM is in Great Shape

On 26/11/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by cleo

Regular readers of Roger-Wilco know that we have been sounding alarm bells over the European ATM situation and the even brighter future that some reports would make us believe is just around the corner. We did not make many friends with this kind of reporting… of course. It is much nicer to believe that all is well even when the plane is crashing. But we were not reporting unfounded facts. Our sources are better than most…

And now a press release from the European Commission finally brings to light just how bad the situation really is.

The “traffic light” assessments published today by the Commission – based on two progress reports – highlight serious cause for concern in relation to two major elements which go to the heart of the Single European Sky project: the performance scheme and the functional airspace blocks.

Only 5 out of 27 Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) get a “green light” and are on track to meet both targets (for cost and capacity/delays) for the period 2012–14. The Commission has issued recommendations asking Member States to revise these targets. If necessary the Commission could adopt a binding decision requesting the Member State(s) concerned to implement specific corrective measures, although a short time remains available for the targets to be met without recourse to this action.

Existing plans by Member States would fail to meet the EU-wide capacity target of 0.5 minute delay per flight in 2014. If this target were achieved, some €920 million would be saved over 2012–14 due to fewer and shorter delays.

In addition, national performance plans would miss the EU-wide target for ATM cost efficiency by 2.4% in 2014. This would have a a major impact, both on airspace users and on the credibility of the Single European Sky. To meet the target, additional measures are needed to achieve a €250 million saving over the entire three-year reference period (2012–14).

Well, this is not exactly the bright picture that States and ANSPs would want the industry to see. Keep in mind also that all this is happening after the failure of EATCHIP and ATM2000+. I hope you are not going to say now that SESAR will be different. SESAR may be but the rest of the environment is not….

But there is more.

The great Functional Airspace Block fiasco.

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EUROCONTROL cancels CDM group meeting

On 12/10/2011, in CDM, by steve

When the mail arrived announcing that EUROCONTROL was cancelling the upcoming CDM group meeting due to severe cuts in their budget, I was not really surprised. This was almost expected as part of what appears to be the killing off of EUROCONTROL. That the CDM group was one of the more successful activities was of course not enough to save the meeting.

Since the announcement, scores of posts appeared on various LinkedIn groups, most of them critical of the decision and regretting this short-sighted action. At least one commenter “reassured” us that this was the way the future will go, the stakeholders want to scale back EUROCONTROL and the ANSPs will take over the coordination of things.

In all the rightful indignation we should not forget a few additional interesting facts that all have a bearing on what is happening to EUROCONTROL to-day. Since I have been there from pretty early on, sharing the time as an ANSP rep and later as an IATA rep, I do have a peculiar perspective which I would like to share with you. Why are these facts important? Because by recognizing them we can hopefully design more effective remedies. So here goes:

1. EUROCONTROL was not perfect. BUT it had many excellent projects, truly forward looking initiatives most of which were consistently slowed down or killed by the stakeholders. I have been in many high level meetings where things got hammered for no other reason but that one or more big ANSPs were not ready to do “it”. Believe it or not, air/ground digital link work in the early phases would have been killed had we not organized a very strong protest… There are more examples.

2. There has been a wrestling match between EUROCONTROL and the EC for a long time. Things got a bit more balanced when the EC burned their fingers in the initial FAB and SES activity caused by the same reluctant stakeholders who were keeping EUROCONTROL from performing properly.

3. It is an open secret that there are certain ANSPs in Europe who have maintained for a long time that they could do a better job of ATM than EUROCONTROL does, being especially critical of the CFMU. The current financial squeeze is not the first initiative to kill EUROCONTROL (but is probably the most effective yet).

4. Giving EUROCONTROL the role of Network Manager is a smokescreen and an incredible affront to the industry. Since EUROCONTROL does not get any additional powers to make things happen (so it will be nothing like the Command Centre in the US), it will be a toothless tiger… Possibly in a few years time it will be established that EUROCONTROL is not being very effective as the Network Manager, so it can disappear completely. Clever… Click here to read the full article


It is not easy to work with the airlines – Why the SJU should be careful

On 07/09/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Having airspace users on board in SESAR is an important development by anyone’s measure. Thinking that having individual airlines involved is the same as having the industry involved is a grave mistake that can cost dearly to all concerned.

The signs of trouble are already there. What do you think about there being a hard-won agreement from the airspace users at one or two pretty high level meetings and then the same users withdrawing their agreement just a few weeks later? The result is frustration on the part of the other partners (ANSPs in this case), confusion about where things were going and, worst of all, loss of credibility of the airlines.

It would be easy to wave this away by just saying that the airline people in the meeting were not up to speed with the subjects being discussed and so they agreed to something they did not fully understand. This would be a rather unfortunate situation and no excuse at all but the actual reality is even worse.

The problem is not new and it is called the industry voice, or rather, the lack of it.

Until about a decade ago, IATA had been recognized by its members as the industry voice on all technical aspects of air traffic management. One of the most important, and difficult, tasks of IATA’s experts had been to forge this common voice, bringing together the widely differing interests and business models of the member airlines so that to the outside world only consolidated, well defined requirements were communicated. This was vital because otherwise the ATM and avionics industries would have been totally confused and at a loss as to what they should develop to meet the airlines’ diverse requirements.

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When is a FAB not a FAB?

On 09/08/2011, in FAB News, by cleo

We have written quite a lot about the Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB), their dangers and their impact on SESAR.

Although these days most everything is claimed to be happening in the context of the various FABs, the picture is far from ideal. It is not unusual to hear in meetings or in discussions with various ANSP reps that this or that subject is very “sensitive” in their FAB and one should be careful mentioning it. Of course it would have been naïve to think that States who were less than exemplary in working together under the EUROCONTROL umbrella would suddenly turn into sheep and cooperate smoothly within the FAB concept. Parochial thinking and the protection of their own turf remain in place and it will take long and hard work to overcome the old reflexes.

But the FAB concept seems to be evolving in a way its inventors probably never intended. You will have noticed in the news the announcement of various co-operation agreements between Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) being created apparently in parallel with the FABs they are participating in. In spite of the nice words of these new alliances, they begged the question right from the start: why? If the FAB is such a great thing and they are already in it, why form an alliance on top of it.

Now we may have the answer…

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Big brother in the sky

On 18/05/2011, in Satellite Navigation, by steve

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) is only now starting to make inroads as a surveillance means more accurate and cost-effective than traditional radar. With the ground infrastructure slowly being built, someone has already come up with a new idea: why not put the ADS-B receivers on satellites and start a surveillance service that covers every nook and cranny of the planet, oceans and the deepest mountain valleys included, and sell the service to Air Navigation Service Providers? Whether as a second layer of surveillance or as the primary one, the satellite based solution promises to be much cheaper in deployment and cost of usage than the already not too expensive ground ADS-B network.

This is a very innovative and absolutely market oriented approach that is of course not without some risk. That surveillance data is essential is not in question. Whether ANSPs will be ready to relinquish their hold on the surveillance infrastructure and go for a more efficient and cheaper solution that is as good as or better than the existing heavy iron is the big question of course.

In any case, Iridium thinks the risk is worth taking. These are the same folks whose first attempt at bringing us satellite telephones was a flop but who have risen from the ashes offering more interesting and viable solutions.

Of course the idea is logical and the timing is good. With both Europe and the USA heading towards all aircraft being equipped with ADS-B, broadcasting their GPS derived position and other information for everyone who cares to listen to hear, a system not limited by geography or topography to pick up and forward the broadcast information makes perfect sense, especially if the cost of its deployment and operation is comparable or less than that of a ground based ADS-B network.

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Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) – the EC’s biggest blunder?

On 30/04/2011, in FAB News, by pbn

That the EC meant well when they originally came up with the idea of Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) is not in question. That they did not anticipate the monster they were creating can be put down to the engaging naivety of someone venturing into the jungle of European air traffic management for the first time. That IATA was blind enough to support the FAB concept shows how desperate they were for a solution, any solution, to the continued ills of ATM.

As we head towards a summer promising to be vary bad in terms of delays and in the midst of the general euphoria about FABs and ANSP alliances, it should be interesting to look into the history of the FAB idea and its present reality. If for no other reason then to learn why it will not bring the improvements the industry craves.

Those amongst you with the longest memory will recall EATCHIP and ATM2000+ the two European flagship air traffic management projects which dragged on for years and in spite of Ministers of Transport signatures on the ATM2000+ documents, they delivered very little. We suffered through meeting after meeting, all kinds of new groups were created but in the end, when it came to implementation the deadlines always seemed to slip to a date comfortably in the future. Comfortably for the service providers and frustratingly for the airspace users. Europe was treading water and the industry did not drawn but this was in spite of ATM2000+ rather than because of it.

The European Commission was taking an increasing interest in the problems of air traffic management and seeing that it was not possible to create a truly European project, they decided to take a pragmatic approach when they finally intervened. Enter the Functional Airspace Block or FAB. If you cannot get the whole of Europe to work on a harmonized system, have at least a few groups of ANSPs work together… A nice idea which unfortunately ignored the fundamental problems and realities of European ATM.

The FAB concept was met with a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm. Working together, giving up even a small bit of their independence was anathema to the ANSPs and any idea coming from the EC was suspect to begin with. The first round of the Single European Sky regulations was struggling to take off at about the same time and was kept firmly on the ground for the very same reason…

Then SESAR came along. This was a truly European undertaking working to define a truly European air traffic management system. SESAR’s definition phase was hard going but on that particular battle field it was no longer possible to go against the pan-European solution, so instead the proposed new paradigms and solutions were attacked with the usual gusto.

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On 06/04/2011, in Perspectives, by steve

Every so often I wake with a splitting headache which is bad enough as it tends to persist the whole day… Even worse however is the rather somber view I have at times like that of our beloved aviation world.

When I think of airports, I see not the runways and the aircraft parked at the gates… I see expensive supermarkets where finding your gate is difficult not because there are so many of them but because you have to wade through shops selling stuff at “tax-free prices” that are still double of what you would pay on Main Street and because the airport will not post the bloody gate numbers until the last minute to keep you in the shopping area that much longer. Very naughty because passengers sometimes forget that they are there to travel and not to make the airport richer with the consequence that they will be late at the gate and possibly delay the flight (or have their baggage unloaded and be left behind). With more and more of their revenue coming from the concessions, who could blame the airports for often concentrating more on selling to the passengers while giving only the minimum they can get away with to their supposedly main customers, the airlines. It is remarkable that one of the main achievements of SESAR will be the full integration of airports into the air traffic management system. I could have sworn aircraft departed from and arrived on runways at airports for decades and that this integration had taken place many years ago. No Sir, that was not the case. Airport operating companies are profit oriented and very competitive and until recently they very successfully kept out of the ATM fold lest their peculiar ideas about operating aircraft be corrupted by “outside” influences. The ideal airline for an airport would be one with no aircraft… The passengers would come to the airport, shop and dine and shop some more and then go home… Aircraft are such a pain in the six o’clock. They are noisy, need a lot of space and their operators are in constant financial stress so the prices the airport can charge is limited. Walking through some airports these days I get the feeling these guys are transforming the facility into a shopping mall and the flying bit is becoming almost incidental.

A few years ago I was crossing the plaza in front of Amsterdam Airport and a guy with a big suitcase approached me with desperation in his eyes: Sir, he asked, where is the airport here? Where indeed!

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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.

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