The misunderstanding of the decade or sloppy terminology?

On 15-06-2011, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

Buzzwords are powerful things. They can be dropped in speeches and writing almost at random and the casual audience or reader will be suitably impressed. Luckily they seldom bother to ask the author for an explanation of his favorite buzzwords… Our little air traffic management world of to-day has lots of buzzwords but my all time favorite is “performance based”.

Just about everything is performance based these days but I have yet to see a truly convincing definition of what this really means in the ATM context. Mind you, Performance Based Navigation (PBN) is something else again and it does actually have a meaning.

In the SESAR definition phase already we had things like the performance partnership and the performance framework being put forward as the basis of the improved ATM system even if it was still hard to get a good explanation of what was meant by it all…

More recently however buzzworditis mutated into a new and rather disturbing variety while elevating itself to the highest level of the SESAR implementation plan.

Reading the corresponding text we learn that SESASR is progressing from time based operations to trajectory based operations to, eureka, performance based operations!

So what is wrong with this picture?

Let’s see. Whatever is time based operations? You can get a good understanding of this if you read my article on SARA, a time based innovation being implemented in Amsterdam. By flying very precise trajectories and hitting time targets within very narrow limits, traffic in the terminal area can be made much smoother and predictable while increasing the overall efficiency of every flight. Clearly, something that will benefit the airspace users and air traffic management alike. But this time based concept already includes elements of the trajectory based operations concept (TBO) on which you can read more here.

So, the first problem with the picture is that progress is not along a straight line from time-based to trajectory-based operations. Playing with target times is part and parcel of trajectory based operations and splitting them into a separate phase does not make much sense. If we want to be pragmatic and say that true trajectory based operations can only be envisaged when the trajectories are considered end-to-end all across Europe while a bit of SARA-like improvement can be realized on a more local level, then and only then, considering time based operations as a first step to TBO can be acceptable (though it only confuses the issues but never mind).

However, postulating that time and trajectory based operations will finally evolve to the superior level of performance based operations is a total misunderstanding of both TBO and the performance based approach to ATM.

To illustrate the point, let me give you two quotations from 2007 from Olaf Dlugi, then Chairman of the SESAR Executive Committee and Guenter Martis, then IATA European Director, respectively.

“The air transport industry needs to prepare for the predicted demand for air transport, which could increase three-fold, compared to today’s traffic. Existing ATM fragmentation and current infrastructures cannot cope with such an increase. While keeping pace with the expected growth, future ATM must take into account optimization of each and every flight. The ATM world has to shift to a performance-based operation.”

“Aircraft operators must be in a position to optimize their operations by setting appropriate priorities when faced with a disruption in the flight schedule – in which case, clear business decisions need to be made – for example to speed-up the take-off of a given flight to ensure passengers’ connections. This will only work if all stakeholders involved in the air transport value chain agree on common ATM system performance targets and principles.”

So you see, performance based operations is not an even more advanced level of trajectory based operations or a more advanced concept of doing ATM at all.

Performance based operations is the baseline and overall framework in which SESAR has to build its new ATM system and the tools to realize this are things like SARA and the trajectory based concept with its 4D trajectories and other paradigm-changing novelties.

If you go to the EUROCONTROL page where they talk about the incremental approach scheduled for the whole SESAR Work Program, the target times themselves are very revealing:

Q4 2011: Time-based operations (hm….???????)
Q2 2015: Trajectory based operations
Q4 2016: Performance based operations

So, what has always been shown as a basic SESAR requirement, performance based operations in the performance framework, will not come until 2016 (if that date is still valid in the first place) but worse, time-based ops and trajectory based ops will not be performance based as such.

Come to think of it, I guess I know where the problem is coming from.

ICAO with its Performance Based Navigation (PBN) concept is driving the industry to change from the current prescriptive environment to a performance based one and this will bring major improvements in aircraft operations all over the world. I have myself argued repeatedly that the term “navigation” should be replaced by “operations” since the concept impacts a much wider range of things than just navigation. We should have PBO rather then PBN.

But in the SESAR context, “performance based operations” as an expression has been used for something totally different… Are we then faced with nothing more sinister than sloppy terminology use? Do they mean that by 2016 the ICAO performance based idea will have been implemented? Or if not, what do they mean?

May be someone out there will be able to tell us…

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