The Mortal Sin of not Taking CPDLC Seriously

On 18/01/2013, in Viewpoint, by steve

CPDLC… Controller Pilot Digital Link Communications. It all started when experts predicted that with the increasing demand, congestion on the air traffic control frequencies will make communications impossible and hence a cap will have to be put on the number of aircraft being served simultaneously, severely restricting ATC capacity.

CPDLC is in fact non-verbal communications using predetermined messages for all but the most time critical exchanges. A kind of SMS service for aviation if you like.

A decade or so ago, Europe was actually leading the world in developing CPDLC, so much so, that American Airlines, disenchanted with the FAA performance on the same subject, asked to be allowed into the EUROCONTROL Petal trials, the trendsetting project that solidified the basis for this new communications technology.

Both the US NextGen and the European SESAR projects show digital link communications as one of the most important elements of the new ATM system. However, some of the main European provider states have disclosed at the end of 2012 that, in spite of a mandate by the European Commission, they will be late with their digital link implementation. One of them will not be ready until 2019!

Of course to-day we know a good deal more about the future ATM system than we did back in the days of Petal. Back then, the focus was mainly on avoiding communications congestion in continental airspace. Anything more that digital link could do was still just a glimmer in the eyes of the most daring dreamers amongst us.

In the meantime, we have of course defined the meaning and practical aspects of Trajectory Based Operations, the new concept which finally does away with the legacy airspace based concept to replace is with something that is able to give back most of the freedom to airspace users that was taken away when positive control was introduced. In the drive for ever more economies in operations, that freedom translates to many millions of bucks saved every year for every company.

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Portland, Oregon Flights to be Cleaner and Greener

On 11/12/2012, in NextGen, by steve

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced that pilots will start using new NextGen technology and procedures that will enable aircraft to fly more efficient, environmentally-friendly flights into Portland International Airport (PDX) beginning next year.

The NextGen (Next Generation Air Transportation System) program uses cutting-edge technology, including new Area Navigation (RNAV) approach procedures, to create a modern, satellite-based air traffic control system, transforming the national airspace system to make it even safer and more efficient for the traveling public, airports and operators, and facilitating economic growth.

“These new procedures in Portland are the building blocks of NextGen,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “NextGen initiatives underway in major regions across the country are helping deliver more on-time flights for consumers, reducing fuel consumption for airlines and creating an even safer aviation system.”

RNAV enables aircraft to fly safely on any desired flight path within the coverage of ground-based or space-based navigation aids. NextGen GPS technology is the basis for new RNAV approach procedures, which replace procedures that do not have the benefit of precise, satellite-based navigation. Aircraft approaching Portland can now power back sooner, saving fuel, making less noise and emitting fewer pollutants.

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Jeppesen-Designed Arrival Procedures to Bring Efficiencies of Performance Based Navigation to Denver International Airport

On 28/11/2012, in PBN, by steve

RNAV RNP arrivals designed by Jeppesen in concert with Denver International Airport, FAA and other stakeholders to improve flow of arrival traffic, reduce pilot and controller workload and lessen  aircraft environmental impact.

Jeppesen, a unit of Boeing Flight Services, has collaborated with Denver International Airport (DEN), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other stakeholders to design and deliver RNAV RNP (area navigation with required navigation performance) based arrivals for DEN. The collaboration brings the benefits of Performance Based Navigation – increased runway throughput; reductions in aircraft fuel burn, greenhouse gas emissions and minimized noise footprints – to the Denver area.

Performance Based Navigation is the foundation of the FAA’s NextGen modernization program, Europe’s SESAR programs and other future air traffic management concepts, which will alleviate much of today’s delays on the ground and in the air. Working with DEN, the FAA, airlines and others, including authorities from Centennial Airport and Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, Jeppesen has designed new arrival procedures that will expedite the flow of traffic arriving at DEN. The new procedures reduce pilot and controller workload and increase aircraft operational efficiency, while at the same time make DEN more neighbor-friendly.

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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.

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Boeing joins SESAR as an Associate Partner to SELEX

On 19/06/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Boeing and SELEX Sistemi Integrati, S.p.A – a Finmeccanica company- have entered into a collaboration agreement in support of the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program’s development phase

Boeing will cooperate with SELEX Sistemi Integrati with research in flight data modeling and data link communications for all phases of flight, and system-wide information management (SWIM).

“Boeing’s participation as our associate partner will support SESAR towards a globally interoperable air traffic management system,” said Stefano Porfiri, SESAR program manager, SELEX Sistemi Integrati.

The agreement follows a Memorandum of Collaboration signed in October 2011 between Boeing and SELEX Sistemi Integrati in which the two companies agreed to cooperate on the SESAR and U.S. Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) programs.

“We are applying an industry-leading Boeing portfolio of services and expertise to the SESAR program to further the modernization of the global air traffic system,” said Neil Planzer, vice president of Air Traffic Management, Boeing Flight Services.

SELEX Sistemi Integrati is a leading industry supplier of air traffic management and airport systems. They are a member of the SESAR Joint Undertaking and one of the major contributors to the SESAR development phase.

The SESAR program is the operational and technological answer to Europe’s air traffic management challenges. Embedded in the European Unions’ (EU) ambitious Single European Sky initiative, the aim of SESAR is to ensure the modernization of the European air traffic management system by coordinating and concentrating all relevant research and development efforts in the EU.

The Boeing Air Traffic Management team draws on expertise from across the enterprise including Commercial Airplanes, Commercial Aviation Services’ Flight Services division, including subsidiary Jeppesen as well as Boeing Research and Technology and Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

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4D Trajectory Management – What is this?

On 31/05/2012, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

The problem with traditional systems

In the traditional scheme of things, an aircraft will file a flight plan, containing a rather rudimentary description of its intentions. Air traffic management and air traffic control organizations then decipher the plan and create a trajectory for the flight as best they can… Very often this is but a poor image of what the airline concerned had in mind and then even this version is further distorted due to the need to limit sector loads or to provide separation.

We tend to think of the trajectory as being three dimensional but in fact the fourth dimension, time, is as important as the three spatial dimensions. This means that a delay on the ground is in fact a distortion of the trajectory which affects “only” the time dimension, but which can have serious consequences for the flight concerned.

Aircraft operators do develop the trajectories they want to fly taking many considerations into account and in the end, the trajectory represents their business intentions, the path on the ground and in the air they want to proceed along to ensure the most cost-effective conduct of their flight.

Traditional air traffic control is based on managing aircraft rather than trajectories. They do of course use the trajectory created in their systems from the flight plan to check ahead of the aircraft to see whether there is a conflict with another flight but this look-ahead is very short (in the order of 20 minutes or so) and tactical interventions rarely take into account their effect on the trajectory as a whole. Multi-sector planners are starting to appear but even these tend to have a limited scope and ability to keep the integrity of the trajectories intact.

Aircraft with sophisticated Flight Management Systems (FMS) can fly a trajectory with phenomenal accuracy but the prediction capability of the FMS is not always what it should be, especially because of shortcomings in the weather-modeling capability built into them.

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ASBU – What is this?

On 21/05/2012, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

ICAO Aviation System Block Upgrades

Although air traffic demand is not growing evenely everywhere, almost no part of the world is without some kind of air traffic management modernization project. In terms of overall cutting edge concepts and technology plans, the US, Europe and Japan are the undisputed leaders. At the same time, other regions like Latin-America and Asia-Pacific have shown leadership in the early application of advanced solutions like PBN.

While in the past ATM improvements were based on an infrastructure that was standardized world-wide (like VOR/DME or ILS) some of the new concepts are predicated on infrastructure improvements and new aircraft equipment that sometimes exist in different flavors and not all are necessarily compatible.

Adoption of different flavor solutions in different parts of the world raise the specter of a loss of interoperability, a situation that is extremely costly for the airspace users to remedy or to accommodate.

Even perfectly interoperable solutions, if implemented with no or little coordination in different parts of the world, can lead to mandates that can only be met with difficulty and excessive cost that is otherwise avoidable if a more structured approach is used.

In the past, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) reputation has suffered somewhat as a result of the extremely bureaucratic way it approached everything and the glacial paced decision making this entailed. At the same time, ICAO continued to be the only world-wide body which was empowered to say the last word on most of aviations air traffic management related provisions and hence there was no way of going around this mostly benign, but sometimes still belligerent giant. Regions keen on improving their ATM environment tried hard to progress even while ICAO lagged and this was leading to a situation where, in spite of its importance, in some aspects ICAO was becoming irrelevant.

But no more! Under new management at the top and mindful of the economic crisis affecting the air transport industry, ICAO has transformed itself into a cost-conscious, business oriented organization that does make a genuine effort to help ATM evolution along.

The first product was the ICAO Global Air Traffic Management Operational Concept (ICAO Doc 9854) which was significant because, for the first time, it actually formalized even concepts like the transfer of separation responsibility to the cockpit. By the way, most of what you find in Doc 9854 was first written up in the context of the European ATM modernization project ATM2000+.

Of course an operational concept as such is of little value until you define how the concept will be implemented and describe the changes in the ATM infrastructure that need to be realized for the concept to work.

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Effective Data Communications for NextGen

On 09/05/2012, in NextGen, by mike@boeing

Beneficial Capabilities

Air traffic service (ATS) data communications provide benefits in terms of increased airspace capacity and improved operational efficiency while also enhancing the existing high level of safety.

Increased airspace capacity. In continental/domestic airspace, capacity is primarily increased through basic controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) that reduce controller and flight crew workload as well as voice frequency congestion associated with routine communications. More specifically, basic CPDLC offers information exchange between the controller and flight crew for vertical, crossing constraint, lateral offset, simple route modification, and speed change clearance request and delivery. Effective strategic management of predictable and accurate aircraft trajectories in the future is also expected to increase continental/domestic airspace capacity; for example, delays due to convective weather will be mitigated by the ability to quickly supply complex route modifications to a large set of affected aircraft before departure. In oceanic, polar, and remote airspace, capacity is primarily increased through manual and automated reports that enable reduced aircraft separation by reliably providing surveillance data for separation assurance, flight plan conformance monitoring, and trajectory planning purposes.

Figure 1. Dynamic Airborne Reroute Procedure

Improved operational efficiency. Operational efficiency is primarily improved through trajectory-based operations (TBO) that decrease aircraft fuel consumption and/or flight time, particularly in the face of constraints that would otherwise increase those parameters. Parallel integration of ATS provider ground automation, aircraft operator ground automation, and avionics (aircraft automation) and of controller, dispatcher, and flight crew operations enable TBO for rapid and accurate trajectory definition, coordination, and monitoring. TBO can be used, for example, to reduce flight time through user-preferred complex route modifications for in-flight aircraft as seen with Dynamic Airborne Reroute Procedures (see Figure 1) and to perform environmentally-friendly fuel-saving optimized profile descents as demonstrated by Tailored Arrivals (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Tailored Arrival

Enhanced safety. Safety is primarily enhanced through accurate machine-to-machine exchange of precise data, such as complete three- or four-dimensional complex routes and latitude/longitude coordinates that resolve duplicate waypoint identifiers. These exchanges prevent gross navigational errors that could otherwise be caused by the flight crew manually transcribing detailed information.

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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?

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DCIS – What is this?

On 08/02/2012, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

It was a sunny and warm afternoon when American Airlines captain Russ Chew, IATA European Regional Director Phil Hogge and myself sat down in the little garden behind our house in Brussels to discuss AA’s dissatisfaction with the way the FAA was going about its air/ground digital link program and how AA may participate in EUROCONTROL’s highly successful Petal trials. This was the end of the 90s and controller/pilot digital link communications (CPDLC) were seen as one of the most essential elements in any future ATM system.

Right about that time a few European ANSPs were busy trying to kill Petal (simply because they were not yet ready for CPDLC) but Maastricht UAC was adamant and with the help of IATA, EUROCONTROL staved off the naysayers. AA became a Petal participant and the trials were concluded with success. Unfortunately, the implementation of CPDLC was slowed down to a crawl by events like the crisis following 9/11 and the other subsequent downturns in the industry. While there continued to be movement in Europe, the FAA actually shelved their CPDLC program in 2003.

Of course with NextGen in the works it could not be otherwise: the FAA had to revive digital communications work and this is now incorporated in the, not too imaginatively named, Data Comm program. What is more, bidding is open for the DCIS or Data Communications Integrated Services contract which is, of course, also part of the NextGen environment. The winner will establish and operate the Data Comm network for a period of 17 years with the service being fee based, to be paid by the FAA.

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