CRDS Rising from the Ashes

On 09/02/2011, in Just to let you know..., by steve

Few of our readers will still remember the original goal of EUROCONTROL… It was to have been THE European air traffic control organization. Nice dream it was and we all know what happened. More recently there was CEATS, the Central European Air Traffic Services Program which was a bit like a Phoenix, the original EUROCONTROL idea rising from the ashes to integrate ATS in Central Europe. After years of effort and a lot of money, this idea also died.

Scattered in Prague and Budapest were remnants of the CEATS elements that had been set up as the first step in realizing the ill-fated project. Prague had the CEATS Strategy and Development Unit, Budapest the CEATS Research, Development and Simulation Centre or CRDS. This latter was renamed in 2009 to EAVU (EUROCONTROL Airspace Validation Unit) no doubt in an effort to reflect the fact that the CRDS was a viable proposition even after the disappearance of CEATS as such. EAVU or not, the fate of the Budapest simulation centre was sealed when EUROCONTROL decided to close it once and for all.

But HungaroControl, the Hungarian ANSP had other ideas.

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New clouds on the Mode-S/ADS-B horizon in Europe

On 18/01/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Most of those who took part in the epic battle over the introduction of Mode S Enhanced Surveillance (EHS) have either retired, moved to other activities or flew west to greener pastures but I guess there is still a hard core who will remember how the airspace users lost that one to the three big States in Europe and EUROCONTROL who was caught between a rock and a hard place… I was one of those doing the shouting, telling anyone who would listen that Mode S Enhanced Surveillance would cost the airlines an arm and a leg and would generate next to zero benefits. The majority of the airlines and some ANSPs agreed… This was back at the beginning of the previous decade and in the end, the three promoters of Mode S EHS, fed up with the indecision of the others and the opposition of the airlines, banded together and set up the Three State Program, in effect deciding that they would put in Mode S EHS regardless of the opposition. They did have the grace to announce clear time-frames (2003) to have everything on the ground ready and the benefits accruing for the airspace users. We are now in 2011 and very little of that grand promise has been realized, certainly if we look at things from the benefit point of view. If anyone out there has news about Mode S Enhanced Surveillance quantifiable benefits being available to anyone, please let us know…

But the story continues except that the stakes are even higher. This time the matter is on the level of the European Commission and its Single European Sky Implementing Rules (SES IR). Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the Commission wanting the jump start SES via implementing rules. On the contrary, this is a good thing. Except that the old specter of Mode S implementation is beckoning again in the Surveillance Performance and Interoperability IR.

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Trajectory based operations (TBO) – Still not properly understood in SESAR? Take 2.

On 18/01/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

You may recall that a while ago I had written an article with the same title, expressing concern that this all important element in the SESAR Concept of Operations was apparently still not properly understood by some of the “experts” working on the subject.

Recently another paper dealing with trajectory management crossed my desk and on reading it I started to wonder: have these people not read the CONOPS at all? Mind you, the paper comes from a major SESAR partner who should know better… But apparently they do not.

The paper is entitled “Use of the SESAR RBT in ATM Systems”. RBT in case you did not know stands for Reference Business Trajectory and this is the trajectory that “the airspace user agrees to fly and the ANSP agrees to facilitate” to quote the relevant part of the SESAR Concept of Operations (CONOPS).

The purpose of the paper, by its own admission, is to prompt discussion of the trajectory issues within the SESAR program and in particular to ensure that they are addressed by Work Package B. In other words, the paper is arguing that alongside the RBT, the various other types of trajectories that exist in local systems must also be recognized and treated in SESAR. Since the CONOPS already contains references to all those “other” kinds of trajectories, one cannot but wonder: what do the authors of the paper have in mind? Why would SESAR ignore the CONOPS references to those other trajectories? Or have the authors not read the CONOPS and are now thinking that they have discovered a gap in that document?

I will not even attempt to figure out this aspect. There are many other elements in the paper that should make anyone familiar with trajectory based operations want to cry.

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Airbus now also an air traffic management company

On 05/01/2011, in Shop floor talk, by steve

Several years ago, Boeing was so worried about the sad state of air traffic management in the US and Europe that they actually thought it would adversely impact their customers to the point where they would end up buying fewer aircraft… This was the stated reason for the establishment of Boeing ATM, a new division that was supposed to bring the needed medicine for air traffic management world wide. The initiative was never the success story it could have been, in no small part because of the industry crisis that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now it seems that Airbus has decided that there was money to be earned in air traffic management and they launched a new subsidiary company, called “Airbus ProSky”, dedicated to the development and support of modern air traffic management (ATM) systems. Airbus ProSky will become the channel through which Airbus will interact and develop ATM programs such as “Single European Sky ATM Research” (SESAR) in Europe, as well as NextGen in the US. In particular, for these two ATM programs, the new company will help accelerate and support the process of their implementation, and link them together by capitalizing on the technological, operational and commercial synergies.

Airbus ProSky will also contribute Airbus’ aviation expertise further afield for other nations by working with their Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), airworthiness authorities and airlines. This will help them achieve the common goal of transforming their ATM systems with the latest technologies and procedures, to achieve the highest operational efficiencies with more direct routings resulting in around 10 percent less aircraft fuel consumption, and significant reductions in CO2 and noise emissions.

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Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB) – New category on Roger-Wilco

On 03/01/2011, in FAB News, by steve

FABs may be the highest political priority for the European Commission and they certainly are the source of high flying political statements, but I still do not like them. Why? Well, the idea when it first came up was a good one. At the time, functional fragmentation of air traffic management in Europe was costing airspace users billions and in spite of all the projects being considered, there was little hope for structural reform.

In order to break the logjam, and fully aware that there was no hope for getting the whole of Europe to co-operate and create a single sky, the EC very pragmatically proposed that groups of States get together and create functional airspace blocks (FAB) along the lines of their ATM “interests”, optimizing and aligning procedures and services inside their FAB… This way, the argument went, at least there would be a single sky of sorts inside the FAB and later on the FABs themselves could be harmonized for a truly single European sky.

Pragmatic and logical as the idea may have been, it was not received by the ANSPs with open arms.

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Why is the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) wary of consultants?

On 30/11/2010, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

OK, you may say that consultants have made a bad name for themselves and you would be partially right. In some industries some of them have and we all suffer the consequences to some degree. But on the other hand, many companies have found considerable cost savings in the use of consultants who will perform tasks that would otherwise cost a fortune… and this is true even if consultants are not cheap themselves.

But why is the SJU so diametrically opposed to the use of consultants that they have told everyone, the airlines and their associations included, right at the beginning and have repeated it many times since, that they may not use consultants to represent them in the SESAR tasks?

You may say the following is conjecture but it is logical and the only reasonable explanation of a totally unreasonable attitude on the part of the SJU.

When the airline industry first faced what was to become a series of financial crises, including the effects of 9/11, they responded by cutting costs across the board. This translated also into reducing their staff engaged in attending to activities like air traffic management. All of a sudden airline representatives all but disappeared from EUROCONTROL meetings and the airspace user influence on ATM developments was automatically reduced to fire fighting and some shouting on the policy level… with predictably meager results.

When SESAR came along, the airline industry was suddenly faced with the opportunity of a lifetime to improve things… except that they lacked the knowledgeable manpower to represent them on an H24 basis. There were of course excellent airline experts still around and those were promptly brought onto the firing line but almost none of them were all-round experts who were at home equally in airline and ATM operations.

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Air Traffic Management déjà vu

On 19/10/2010, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Reading Henning’s article and with my up-close-and-intimate involvement in the SESAR definition phase (and the 20 or so years leading up to it) I could not escape a terrible feeling of déjà vu. This was only strengthened when I read the news about ANSP CEOs rumbling that the performance targets of the EU’s Single Sky Package were unrealistic and airlines rumbling that the costs arising from the proposed ADS-B implementing rule were placing an inordinate share on them compared to the burden to be borne by the ANSPs.

These are signs of a toxic mix well known from the past and they bode ill for ATM developments in Europe.

But there is more.

One of the airline associations is very vocal about the need to get financing support for the airlines as they consider the price of SESAR prohibitively expensive. This is all very well, but apparently little is being done to actually find and organize such financing.

IATA, the one organization that in the past successfully influenced ATM development directions by being present everywhere down to the working level, has now basically drawn back and seems to believe that things in the ATM world can be influenced equally successfully by simply issuing policies. This is a fallacy that will cost the airlines dearly. Policies are fine but in practice they are often ignored or interpreted in ways favorable to interests other than those of the airlines. By the time this is discovered, all kinds of binding agreements and decisions will have been made and airline protests will be met, in most cases, with a shrug. You missed the boat folks…

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Is SESAR doing what the airlines intended?

On 14/10/2010, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Exclusive interview with Dr. Henning Hartmann

Today we bring you an exclusive interview with Dr. Henning Hartmann, who was, during the SESAR Definition Phase with Lufthansa German Airlines and representing the Airspace Users, he was also the person responsible for the development of the SESAR Concept of Operations (ConOps). He will give us his views on what SESAR is to-day as he sees it and explains why there is cause for some concern.

Henning can you give our readers an impression of what you are feeling today when looking at SESAR and the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) as they are now?

In order to understand my arguments concerning today’s situation, I’ll first have a closer look at the situation as it was during the definition phase.

The SESAR Definition Phase was a multi-stakeholder project consisting of 6 milestones which delivered 6 documents each of which was subject to agreement by the stakeholders. The SESAR Concept of Operations was part of deliverable 3, entitled “The ATM Target System”. It was seen as the driving engine of the future system and consequently to some extent the development process of the concept was THE culmination point of the diverging views of the different stakeholders. Obviously, in the end all stakeholders had to compromise to some extent.

Why did these different views come up?

It makes a huge difference “how” a system is operated and since I was representing the Airspace Users, the Airspace Users operational concept vision did not come up just by accident. It was the result of a structured process reflecting all types of Airspace Users.
Before going to the different views, it is essential to understand how the vision of the Airspace Users was constructed: we looked 15 years ahead, we did analyse different passenger segmentation forecasts and their needs and preferences and how the airlines could respond (in terms of the operational context) to those passenger needs.

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Are ATM operational concepts the cause of failure?

On 03/09/2010, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

I have known Jean-Marc Garot, the former director of EUROCONTROL’s Experimental Centre in Paris for a long time. A forward thinker and in many ways a visionary, he retired from EUROCONTROL in 2005. He has now published an interesting article in The Controller magazine with the title “What is an ATM concept?”

I think everyone in Europe and in the US who has ever been involved in the development of operational concepts for air traffic management should read this article. Not because it is so good or so full of revelations from which we can learn but to see just how poorly we have communicated our efforts and how completely things have been misunderstood on various levels of the ATM world and at different ATM organizations.

The article starts off with a nice and even funny summing up of how, it is claimed, experts for concept work are/have been selected. There is indeed some truth in the description and it is also true that there have always been people on the concept groups coming from airlines, ANSPs, industry and what have you who could only think in terms of their own particular activities with little regard for anybody else’s. But those were always a minority. Troublesome yes, but hardly determinant for the final product.

The overwhelming majority of experts in concept work knew what they were about and it was quite common to have airline reps with an ATC background as well as the other way round with ATC folks who were flying on the side.

The article correctly points out that some of the documents produced were indeed overly voluminous… It is a pity that in the very next paragraph 4D Trajectory Management, System Wide Information Management (SWIM) and even air/ground digital link are listed as mere hypotheses, ambiguous descriptions that everyone can agree to and which therefore assume the status of certainties, no longer questioned and on which benefit expectations can be built… without much justification.

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Conversion course – Does anyone understand the airlines?

On 22/06/2010, in Airline corner, by steve

My fascination with aircraft started at about age 5 and I first heard about air traffic control when I was 16. Gabi Nemeth who made music besides being an air traffic controller was on a TV talk show and he made a gallant effort to explain what ATC was all about… He must have done a great job because I for one understood what he was saying and from then on wanted nothing better than to be a controller. Being accepted to the physics faculty of a University in Budapest almost derailed my destiny but I corrected it soon enough and on my 21st birthday I issued the first landing clearance all on my own!

In the years that followed I collected just about every qualification a controller can have and added a bit of computer programming skill also. In time I exchanged the microphone for a desk at ICAO in Paris and later, for a post involved in building the new Amsterdam ATC system, AAA. But I never thought of myself as anything other than an air traffic controller. I was also very much convinced that what I was doing with or without the microphone, was the best possible course for our charges, the aircraft and their operators. Giving them directs, shortening the tracks wherever possible and the many other “treats” all appeared as going out of our way to help them.

My first exposure to IATA was at the very first Flow East meeting which was held in Budapest. We knew relatively little about this mighty organization or how it worked and were generally a bit suspicious of its motives… They sent a diminutive Swissair captain as one of their representatives and what he lacked in stature was more than made up for by his forceful personality and very clear words blasting us for the very poor job we were doing. He did not spare the civil aviation authorities either, drawing multiple color lines on a wall chart showing where the air routes should be in his view… Very few of the existing routes were where he thought they should be of course. His propensity for drawing colored lines earned him the nick “Tintoretto”. I remember how deeply hurt I felt by all the verbal abuse but also the feeling that may be, just may be, Tintoretto had a point. Had I known what profound effect his colored lines would have on my life many years later, I would have kissed the little captain on the brow for sure.

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