Will EUROCONTROL’s New DG Rebuild an Old Dream?

On 11/01/2013, in ATC world, by steve

Frank Brenner, EUROCONTROL’s new DG

Once upon a time, EUROCONTROL had been created to be the air navigation service provider for Europe. Operating a limited number of air traffic control centers, a research institute and a training facility, it would have been the key to an efficient set up not unlike what we find in the United States.

Unfortunately, before the concept could be fully implemented, European States decided that such a pan-European service was not to their liking and they went for a EUROCONTROL that ended up having responsibility for only a relatively small chunk of airspace (although it is one of the busiest) and all later attempts to go further in the original direction were repulsed. Just think of CEATS…

A few functions were allowed to be under the EUROCONTROL umbrella. The Integrated Initial Flight Plan Processing System and the Central Executive Unit (the flow management folks) escaped the State surgeons’ knife and went on to become real success stories. They were later joined by the European AIS Data Base and of course the Central Route Charges Office is also something Europe could no longer exist without.

But air traffic control remained hopelessly fragmented and the costs were much higher than those in the US while the whole operation was a good deal less efficient. A series of projects entailed, each with lofty ideas about repairing European ATM but they all failed due to the same elementary forces that had afflicted the EUROCONTROL dream… The inertia and parochial thinking of European States, who were mainly interested in maintaining the status quo. Change came only where it was really no longer possible to keep things as they were.

Seeing that Europe as a whole was unable to reform its ATM, the European Commission came with a new idea. Let’s divide Europe into 2-3 blocks of airspace cut out to reflect the main traffic patterns and then have States optimize their services inside these blocks. So the FAB (Functional Airspace Block) idea was born. Of course Europe being Europe, instead of 2 or 3 FABs, 9 (NINE!!!) were created reflecting political wishes rather than the needs of air traffic patterns.

Guess what was discovered next? That 5 or 6 European States have roughly the same difficulty in agreeing anything as 20 or 39 do. The whole idea of FABs is fragmentation on a different scale but with 9 of the animals working away practically independently, a recipe for failure was clearly on the table. 4 December 2012 was the date when the FABs should have been operational… The date came and went and the FABs were there in name only to the dismay of the European Commission and the airlines who gave voice to their disappointment in a letter with unusually hard words.

Now EUROCONTROL has a new director.

Frank Brenner, a former VP of the Performance Review Commission, seems to be the bearer of something new… Something that might, one day, restore things to where they should have been decades ago but were always torpedoed by the parochial thinkers.

Centralised services…

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Air transport growth and the privacy rules… something has to give.

On 12/12/2012, in CDM, by steve

Information is power. Shared information is efficiency. The right information, at the right place and the right time is what air traffic management of the future needs.

Whether one reads material on collaborative decision making (CDM), system-wide information management (SWIM) or any number of other papers and articles about ATM, the need for quality information, properly shared, keeps coming back. It is not an exaggeration to say that information is one of the pillars that supports efficient and safe air traffic management everywhere.

When the concept of collaborative decision making was first defined in the United States, we faced a lot of opposition from one of the main beneficiaries of CDM, the airlines themselves. They were afraid that sensitive information would fall into the hands of their competitors, putting them at a disadvantage. Assurances that sensitive information would be de-identified and that there would be no danger of sensitive stuff getting into the wring hands did not cut it. They were still reluctant to play. Since this reluctance blocked the sharing of some of the most essential data, a different approach was required. The US CDM group set out to examine every last bit of information classified sensitive (and hence not shared) to establish whether the classification was justified. The idea was that if we could show the owners of the data that they were protecting something that was not sensitive at all, they might change their minds about sharing it.

The slot constrained airport in Philadelphia was losing a lot of capacity because of empty slots created by one of the incumbent airlines frequently cancelling flights but not announcing it to anyone lest a competitor grab their passengers. So the slots were left open until the last minute and when there was no aircraft to fill them, they were lost and so was a part of the airport’s capacity. The airline concerned considered the data on flight cancellations competition sensitive and would not share it with anyone except the smallest circle who could not be avoided. It took some convincing, but in the end they agreed that even if they announced their cancellations in the morning, no competitor could possibly benefit from this knowledge in ways not already available anyhow… From then on, the empty slots taking off in Philly became very scarce and capacity was restored. It was an important lesson. Information is often treated in ways that far exceed its actual level of sensitivity and by remedying this, information sharing can be boosted substantially.

Now, a couple of decades down the road from that famous Philadelphia case, we are once again facing a very similar problem. Privacy rules…

Click here to read the full article


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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New ICAO Flight Plan goes live on 15 November

On 14/11/2012, in Just to let you know..., by steve

The worldwide implementation of ICAO Flight Plan changes take effect this week on 15 November 2012. The amendments to flight plan content go to the very core of flight plan processing.

15 November 2012 is the ultimate deadline: after that date, current or old format flight plan messages will no longer be accepted.

Aircraft Operators were requested to begin filing flight plans in the new format from 12 November onwards, so as to ensure that by 15 November, only new format data are in the systems.

The main changes affect:

– field 10 in the standard flight plan, the section describing the equipment carried by the aircraft (and its capabilities)
– the way in which this information is described in field 18
– the ability to file up to five days in advance of the estimated off-block time (EOBT) using the date of flight (DOF).

Although the changes require system modifications, it is also important to realise that much more information is now needed on the flight’s communication, navigation and surveillance capabilities.

This will have significant impact on anyone who creates or receives flight plan messages: air navigation service providers (ANSPs), aircraft operators, air traffic services reporting offices (AROs) and flight plan service providers.

Click here to read the full article


A Pragmatic Approach to modernising Europe’s Air Traffic Management Systems – SJU Press Release

On 16/10/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Just a few days after the rather damning speeach of the European Commission’s Transport Commissioner, blasting Europe for 10 years of essential inaction on the Single European Sky (SES), the SESAR Joint Undertaking published the press release you can find below. The SJU strikes a rather more optimistic tone although the dissonance between these two communicatons is in itself something that is food for thought for those trying to understand where Europe is going with its Air Traffic Management system. If you want to see an account of the ATM Master Plan story that is a bit more ciritcal, click here before reading the SJU piece. Then judge for yourself…

“Europe’s Single Sky modernisation is taking further shape with the update of the European Air Traffic Management Master Plan. This is the newly agreed strategic plan providing technological and operational roadmaps to all aviation stakeholders. It allows for timely, coordinated and efficient deployment of new technologies and procedures in the timeframe to 2030. Its content has been aligned with International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBU), in order to secure global interoperability and synchronisation.

At its core, the Master Plan is performance-driven, responding to the four Key Performance Areas (KPAs) of environment, cost-efficiency, safety and capacity. These criteria, set by the European Commission, form part of the wider set of ICAO KPAs.
First drafted in early 2009, the Master Plan is intended to evolve with time. This 2012 version helps to better achieve the high level goals of Single European Sky (SES), as set by the European Commission. Key features of the new Master Plan are:
1. A revision of the performance objectives contributing to SES’ high level goals.
The results achieved so far in the R&D programme have helped determine intermediate performance targets feeding into SES High level goals. These revised targets correspond to the contribution of SESAR, one (for technology) of the five SES pillars (the other four are Performance, Safety, Airports and Human factor).
In its first of three change steps, SESAR will contribute to:
o -2.8% in fuel efficiency
o -6% in cost efficiency
o -40% in accident risk per flight hour
o +27% in airspace capacity

Click here to read the full article


Storm rising?

On 11/08/2012, in Viewpoint, by steve

If you read the official communiqués from SESAR and EUROCONTROL, it is easy to be lulled into the perception that all is well on the European air traffic management front and we are more than ready to face any sudden jump in traffic demand. If, on the other hand, you listen to the jungle telegraph or, increasingly, look at reports in the trade press, a very different picture emerges.

Just read this article and then this one if you were not convinced by our own writing and the comment made by a Lufthansa expert on Roger-Wilco here.

Air Traffic Management in Europe has always been a minefield of political wrangling and adding the EU to the combination has not really improved matters. SESAR is a flagship project with huge industry interests at play while also being a sensitive spot for the Commission who would of course not like to see SESAR fail, especially after the less than stellar performance of SES and the FABs.

It is striking to observe the difference in communications about the US’s NextGen and the European SESAR. NextGen is far from problem free and you read about it regularly. The problems and possible solutions are being openly discussed and credibility is not adversely affected by this openness. At the same time, SESAR appears to be problem free… and this is what kills credibility in the eyes of all but the most short sighted experts.

Click here to read the full article


Fragmentation then and now…

On 23/07/2012, in FAB News, by cleo

In previous writings on the problems we see with the concept of Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB), the authors have often compared the European ATM fragmentation the nine FABs are bringing to the situation we had back in the early 70s. Like all comparisons, this one is not perfect by far, but there are enough similarities to make one worry. Are they going to address those issues?

Because let’s not forget that the idea of FABs came as a result of Europe’s dismal failure to agree on a region-wide improvement to the way air traffic management was being done. If there is no regional solution, let’s try to get things sorted out on the level of blocks of airspace that can be seen as functionally interrelated. Going for an airspace based concept when the modern approach was trajectory based was the first fatal flow… But much worse was the political interference which resulted in nine FABs instead of the 2 or 3 that would have been warranted on a purely air traffic management basis. Anyway, the FABs took a long time to get things going, sorting out organizational and political issue first and it is only now that they are slowly turning to getting the ATM aspects addressed. Based on the noises coming from every direction, coordinating things between 4 or 5 ANSPs is not that much easier than it was between 27 or so. Because the FABs are working on their own, applying their own understanding to the ATM concepts at hand, with solutions defined that are optimized for the given FAB environment, they are fast becoming castles unto themselves. However, even the largest FAB is pretty small from an aircraft’s point of view and a lot of the traffic a FAB will encounter does not stay exclusively in that FAB. An average European flight will encounter several FABs as it negotiates the suddenly not-so-single European sky. So, we know that ANSPs in a given FAB have some trouble agreeing things (nothing new there…). Who will get the FABs themselves to agree to things that affect a bunch of them? That is what used to be the European level… and the circle is round. I can already see the European FAB coordination meeting where reps of the various FABs will discover that a lot of their hard won agreements that appeared to be perfect inside their FAB do not really line up with the thinking of the FABs downstream. Then what?

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Déjà Vu

On 17/07/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

EUROCONTROL will forgive me for quoting here from the latest issue of Skyway magazine, which focuses on airspace users. Here is what they have to say in the introduction:

With the onset of the Single European Sky performance scheme, collaborative decision making, the business and mission trajectories as defined by the SESAR program and a host of other initiatives which will involve all aviation stakeholders, we are on the edge of a new era of much closer collaboration between the operational departments of air navigation service providers, airports and aircraft operators.

“This will go much further than sharing a common set of data. It will mean that we really start to understand each other’s businesses and this will take ATM organizations such as EUROCONTROL into relatively unchartered territory”, said Bo Redeborn, Principal Director ATM.

This is of course very promising. Especially if we consider the following wise words, also from EUROCONTROL:

Best use of airspace can only be achieved if the traditional Air Traffic Control (ATC) concept is replaced, in a controlled way, by a new ATM concept.

A System Approach, recognizing the interdependence of stakeholders’ operational decisions, with a consistent management of all phases of flight, the application of uniform principles, the integration of airport airside operations into ATM and system-wide information sharing.

Organizational means to manage the complexity of the traffic situation and to manage the ATM network as an integrated whole via seamless services.

The path for change includes the desire to support the mission and/or business requirement of the airspace users to sustain their activity and optimize the integrity and yield of their operations.

There is only one little problem with all this. The second set of quotations is from the Executive Summary of the 2003 edition of the ATM2000+ Strategy…

So, if in 2003 they were talking about the “interdependence of stakeholders’ operational decisions” and the “integration of airport airside operations into ATM”, how come ten years later we are still only on “the edge of a new era of much closer cooperation”? What the hell have they been doing for ten years?

Of course we know full well what. Precious little. Had States and ANSPs been realizing what they had signed up for in the ATM2000+ Strategy, we would not have FABs and SESAR to-day but instead we would have a functional, cost effective air traffic management system that would be the best in the world.

So while we all smile happily on the edge of the new era, may be, just may be, we should ask the question: will it be different this time?

Judging from the signs, I doubt it.


An Air Traffic Management Master Plan with Question Marks

On 27/06/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

If you follow European air traffic management developments, you will have noticed in the news that the ATM Master Plan is undergoing a significant update and the SESAR ATM Master Plan portal promises to have new information on this by mid-2012. About now that is…

There was less discussion about interesting events surrounding the Master Plan update. The original draft updated ATM Master Plan was so poor, the airlines at first proposed that IATA should not support this new version.

As we all know, flatly refusing to support such a cornerstone document does not happen lightly and there must have been serious shortcomings to upset the airspace users so much. Of course it says a lot about the current environment that a Master Plan update, even if only as a draft, can be released at all while containing information that has the potential to rattle the airspace users to this degree.

But what were the real problems as seen by the users?

Let’s first start with a bit of history. As you will see, the background facts are slightly more somber than the rather upbeat news communicated over the official channels during the Master Plan update process.

Click here to read the full article


Is SESAR Doomed to Fail?

On 10/06/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

As some of us will remember, SESAR is not the first attempt to remedy the sad state of air traffic management in Europe. Think EATCHIP and ATM2000+… This latter was especially significant, since the ministers of transport of all ECAC States had signed off on it, promising to implement what was required to make the ATM2000+ concept of operations reality.

Very little, if anything, was realized of the lofty aims of ATM2000+. The best proof of this is that had ATM2000+ become reality, there would have been no need for SESAR… But why did those earlier projects fail? There was nothing wrong with the concept or the technologies proposed. However, everything was wrong with some of the major air navigation service providers in Europe who did everything in their power to block things from happening. In some cases they did this for no other reason than their inability to be ready on time and not wanting to be seen as lagging behind… When we were working on the initial phases of air/ground digital link and controller-pilot digital link communications, it was discovered that one of the biggest States in Europe did not have a digital-link policy, let alone a program to implement it. We practically had to “shame” them into starting work on this, arguing that it would look really bad if they were not involved…

Ministerial signatures notwithstanding, ATM2000+ sputtered, struggled and finally died when everyone started to wait for SESAR (the next big one…) to take over and solve all problems. In fact, what little may have come from ATM2000+ was also strangled because things were put on hold when the miracle watch began.

It is often said that SESAR is different. It is being created under the auspices of the Single European Sky (SES) legislation, it has the power of the European Commission behind it… it will be a success. Well, I am not so sure.

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