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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European ATM Blasted Again

On 04/05/2012, in Viewpoint, by steve

One of the many yardsticks you can use to measure the passage of time is the frequency you encounter air traffic management experts who stare at you as if you were from the moon when you mention EATCHIP or ATM2000+. Yes, there is a whole new generation of experts working at the air navigation service providers (ANSP) who have never, or hardly ever, heard of those flagship projects which were supposed to save European ATM in the 80s and 90s.

Then there are ANSP managers, who pretend that they have never heard of them. They are the ones who whine and cry saying that the targets being set by the European Commission as part of the Single European Sky (SES) legislation are too ambitious and they cannot be achieved in the short time available.

These managers act as if they had to start from scratch. As if the initial aims of SES were not in fact just an incremental improvement over what the ANSPs have, supposedly, already achieved as part of the ATM2000+ project. At least I cannot recall any of them having said that ATM2000+ was a failure and that they had done mighty little.

ATM2000+ was a failure of course simply because no agreement could be reached on anything while each ANSP was busy protecting their turf…

The EC was triggered to intervene by this exact failure. They let loose the FAB concept and SES I and when both faltered, SES II. The longer term future was to be assured by SESAR.

With all this heavy artillery you would think European ATM was finally home free. No way!

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The FAB Saga. 2012 Edition.

On 02/04/2012, in FAB News, by steve

2012 is a significant year for the European Functional Airspace Blocks (FAB). Namely, they must all be fully operational by December this year. All nine of them. Let’s have a quick look at these things to get a good overview of their status and impact.

First and foremost I think one needs to clarify that if the words ”fully operational” as applied to the FABs in this context were to be used to describe an aircraft, we would see engineering drawings pasted onto old and creaky desks and little more.

Each FAB is in fact an entity composed of two or more ANSPs who have banded together mainly on political grounds. The ANSPs in each FAB have had a horribly difficult time forging agreements amongst themselves and most of the time work focused on political and financial issues with little attention to really substantial operational improvements. Work on how the FABs themselves will cooperate with each other across Europe has hardly started. Now these new fortresses of ANSP might must submit their plans to the European Commission by 24 June so that airspace users and other stakeholders may comment on them. With most of Europe going on holidays in July and August, stakeholder comments are unlikely to be available before the end of September (and then I am being extremely charitable). So, the FABs will have all of two months to implement those plans or if they do it earlier, it will be tantamount to ignoring stakeholder comments. Where have we seen that before?

This whole FAB craze is of course a questionable thing that is likely to turn out to be the most expensive flop yet… until SESAR flops but that is still some way down the road.

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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


BLUE MED FAB Newsletter No. 3

On 15/08/2011, in FAB News, by steve

In case you were wondering what folks are doing inside a FAB, help is at hand in the form of the BLUE MED FAB Newsletter No. 3.

With EUROCONTROL now having been officially appointed as the Network Manager, there is the inevitable interview with Joe Sultana, the boss of EUROCONTROL’s Directorate Network Management. Then an interview with Patrick Ky about SESAR is followed by news of the Malta Free Route real time simulation and the BLUE MED OLDI real time simulation. Perhaps it is surprising to have a free route and an OLDI RTS being reported on alongside each other… OLDI is old and should have been replaced by SYSCO long ago. But the newsletter, to its credit, discusses frankly how the legacy systems in the BLU MED FAB area are trying to co-operate for best effect and how they are looking forward to the time when SESAR will bring the long awaited changes.

You will also read about the events at the 5th meeting of the BLUE MED FAB Governing Body Meeting where Dr. Georg Jarzembowsky, the European Commission’s Coordinator for the FAB initiatives and the Single European Sky reassured the participants that the implementation of FABs is a key element of the Single European Sky legislation and of the European Union’s transportation policy.

Click the picture to download the newsletter.


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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HungaroControl cooperates with Scandinavian Air Traffic Management academy

On 24/06/2011, in Training world, by steve

The Hungarian air navigation service provider and Entry Point North owned by the Swedish, the Danish and the Norwegian air navigation service providers are opening a joint ATM training academy in Budapest named Entry Point Central. Starting in September 2011, the future generation of Hungarian air traffic controllers will be trained according to the world-class Scandinavian training program and methodology. The new academy will also be open for other air navigation providers.

HungaroControl and Entry Point North have founded a joint venture. This long-term, cross-border partnership has been created with the purpose of increasing the level of initial air traffic controller training in Hungary, with the help of one of Europe’s most renowned ATM training center. In the long term, this partnership will contribute to the development of air navigation services in the region and the improvement of the competitiveness of Functional Airspace Block Central Europe (FAB CE). The first training course will begin in September 2011 with 16 Hungarian students at the joint academy in Budapest, named Entry Point Central.

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Should we listen to the jungle telegraph?

On 08/06/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by cleo

 Editor’s note: When the material for this article hit my desk, I thought long and hard, pondering what to do with it. Most of what is said in it I have heard also myself and Cleo, the original author is well connected and not given to crying wolf… Having consulted a number of friends, I decided to go ahead and publish it, duly qualifying some of the information as bits off the jungle telegraph. As you know, there is a lot of noise coming off that particular type of telegraph but if you listen carefully, you can learn surprising things. Some of which might even be true.

No ATM person having suffered through EATCHIP and ATM2000+ could wish anything but for SESAR to succeed. There is no plan B and if the European Commission, not to mention the airlines, sees all this money being squandered, there will be hell to pay. Literally…

When you ask people close to the program about how things are going, you will either get a blank stare or a few mumbled words about SESAR being reoriented, project dates slipping, some technical projects having run ahead without the non-technical underpinning having been delivered to them and the need to stop several projects for anything up to a year to get things back on track again. There are strange noises also about a SESAR 2. Mind you, this is on the jungle telegraph and the messages are unsigned.

With just one or two people saying such things one may think it is the normal noise in a complex project. When you have scores of them, it is hard not to take notice. Of course in a project involving so many people and so many organizations, there are bound to be those who always complain. Yet, somehow you get the feeling that there is more to this than meets the eye…

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HungaroControl has opened its Centre of Research, Development and Simulation

On 11/05/2011, in Simulator world, by steve

Central-Europe’s only simulation centre is operating under the aegis of HungaroControl from 10th of May in Budapest. The centre, equipped with state of the art technology, was opened by Mr. Pál Völner, Secretary of State responsible for infrastructure, Mr. Joe Sultana, COO of Directorate Network Management of EUROCONTROL (European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation), and Mr. Kornél Szepessy, CEO of HungaroControl (Hungarian Air Navigation Services) in the presence of the leaders of Air Navigation Services in the region. The aim of the Centre of Research, Development and Simulation (CRDS) is to aid the regional cooperation and the establishment of the Single European Sky.

To make European air navigation more effective and competitive, the airspace presently segmented along the borders will be organized into functional airspace blocks within the Single European Sky implementation program. The integration requires unprecedented cooperation from the Air Navigation Service Providers and controllers and it makes changes necessary to numerous procedures and processes, also the shortening of the air navigation routes. HungaroControl’s innovation centre opened today enables the testing of newly developed theoretically secure processes and air traffic controller procedures before their actual usage.

“Hungary does its very best to enhance the establishment of the Single European Sky, and for the successful operation of the Central-European functional air space block, the treaty of which we signed last Thursday together with the countries of the region” – said Mr. Pál Völner Secretary of State responsible for infrastructure on the opening ceremony. “The Hungarian Air Navigation Service Provider invests great efforts in the advancement of the whole Central-European air navigation and the regional cooperation. A great example of this is the CRDS, an innovation centre which is open for all service providers” – added the Secretary of State.

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