The transition from AIS through AIM to IM – What is this?

On 26-01-2010, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

A global congress with this title will make even the aficionados of abbreviations shiver… AIS, AIM, IM… What is next? UR? Well, the funny thing is, the title is perfectly correct and abbreviations or not, it reflects one of the most profound changes ever in the way information is collected, promulgated and used in international aviation.

Let’s have a look at what is meant by those abbreviations and what their significance really is.

What is AIS?

AIS is of course the abbreviation of Aeronautical Information Service. This is the traditional, product based service concept that brings you vital information in the form of Notices to Airmen (NOTAM), the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP), Aeronautical Information Circulars (AIC), the AIRAC system of information publication and of course the loads of standards and practices that come with them.

Over the years, AIS has grown into a worldwide system of aeronautical information provision that is both indispensable and for a long time was also a hindrance to progress in aeronautical information management.

How come? Well, let’s state right here and now that AIS is a wonder of global cooperation. It went global and worked well decades before the term “globalization” was invented (albeit in a different context). So, as far is it went, AIS was and still is in many respects an example to be followed. The problems came as a result of its product based nature. Raw data is collected, checked and collated, then published in “products” that represent a best-guess of what users of aeronautical information want most. In the simpler world of yesteryear, those guesses were not even so bad.

In to-day’s much more complex environment an AIS that serves everyone does not in fact fully satisfy anyone. OK, there are some really simple operations that are exceptions but they are really a minority.

Why was AIS a hindrance to change? As you can imagine, global AIS was not built overnight and they had had their share of troubles. Also, being State monopolies, AIS offices were not exactly reared to embrace change, even necessary change. So, even when the need for change was staring everyone in the face, AIS in some parts of the world pretended that everything was just fine. Change this well balanced system and face the consequences, they seemed to suggest…

Enter AIM…

Of course, AIS was not the only area in air traffic management that needed reform. Air traffic control systems that could hardly talk to each other, flight plans that differed widely depending on which system had processed them are just a few examples that show the sad state information management was in two decades ago. The need to improve things across the board was recognized many years before AIS woke up to the new realities.

The need for change in air traffic management was formalized in 1998 when the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) concept was finally accepted as one of the pillars of the new ATM system. Unfortunately, the concept languished in the intractable bureaucracy of European ATM, nobody having been very keen on addressing the complications inherent in such a deep change in the way information was being managed.

However, at first almost unnoticed, a quiet revolution was taking place driven by a few enlightened champions in the AIS field! By around 2005, almost overnight, the blocking factor became the driver.

With the quantum leap in information use and the requirements for more information in every aspect of air traffic management as well as the introduction by airspace users and other partners of a digital, data oriented paradigm in their operations, the gap between the requirements and the ability of the product oriented AIS system to deliver was becoming ever more evident and undeniable.. The product oriented system was not flexible and it was difficult and expensive to add new features and information and hence closing the requirements gap without major changes was impossible.

In time the difficulty was recognized by the AIS community as was the fundamental truth that the aeronautical information service is an essential service to aviation that must rise to the challenge through developing into a service that fully supports the future information sharing environment.
This evolution is taking place via the transformation of traditional, product based AIS into data oriented Aeronautical Information Management that has been discussed and agreed in numerous forums world wide.

So what exactly is Aeronautical Information Management (AIM)? In the past aeronautical information had been defined in a rather narrow manner. The shared information environment of the future, and in particular the collaborative processes envisaged, require that aeronautical information not be limited to a set of data that is pre-determined based on expectations. The new definition should also be net-centric and focus on the overall needs of air traffic management, recognizing the propensity of these needs to change over time.

Based on the above, the best definition of Aeronautical Information is “any information of concern to air traffic management, without pre-defined limitation”. A system built to cater for this premise has no problem in accommodating an expansion of the information set or of the users/providers and hence can fully support the evolution of the net centric environment as it embraces new processes, both in the air and on the ground.

AIM is the first, vital step towards implementing the SWIM concept. In fact, AIM is already part of SWIM. It brings together the new digital version of aeronautical information with dispensing the product based paradigm. In an AIM environment, end users can access quality checked aeronautical data and create their own products that are tailored to best support their particular needs. Clearly a major improvement over traditional AIS.

Is IM the same a SWIM?

At the risk of unleashing a storm of protest, I will say YES, absolutely. But I will also and immediately qualify this statement. The way you need to look at it is that IM, which stands for Information Management, is the top level, the overall concept while SWIM is the actual substantiation of information management as it will be practiced in Europe (SESAR) and the US (NextGen).

Obviously, if IM said anything different from what SWIM will be doing in the two largest aviation markets of the world, we would be facing a major step back not only from AIM but even traditional AIS, that shining example of global interoperability.

Of course the meaning of the term “interoperability” is very different in a modern digital environment but it requires parts of the system to play to a common tune nevertheless.

But what exactly will IM add to AIM?

The clue is in the abbreviation SWIM… System Wide. It was said earlier that AIS to AIM was a first step towards improved information management, SWIM actually. AIM will increase the scope of aeronautical information as per the definition above but it will be approaching things from what is still basically the AIS perspective.

IM on the other hand will make the quantum leap and be the information management solution for the totality of air traffic management eventually including every conceivable kind of information from meteorology to surveillance and everything in-between.

Is this really necessary and are we not aiming for the impossible?

To answer this question, we first have to consider briefly the traditional silos our world is composed of and which we will need to break down if air traffic management is to evolve properly. Communications, navigation, surveillance… In the past, these three areas were well defined and grew along their own paths, often to the detriment of ATM as a whole. In to-day’s digital environment it is no longer always evident whether a particular piece of data belongs to communications, navigation or surveillance. Just think of GPS… true, it only gives you signals with which you can determine your position plus the exact time, but then depending on which application you put that position into, you will be able to navigate or do surveillance while the time is used to synchronize your air/ground digital link. So, the meaning of CNS is kind of blurring right?

In exactly the same way, a lot of other data is also becoming similarly difficult to classify and in fact one can reach the conclusion: it does not make any sense to classify data along those lines. Data, any data, may be useful in a number of ways and the main thing is that it should have the quality necessary for a particular purpose. The end users will determine how they use the data and for what.

This is why in the future net-centric environment all data that may be present will need to be managed on the basis of agreed rules by partners of agreed responsibilities. And that is exactly what IM will do in the future SWIM or SWIM-like environments.

You can read more about SWIM here.

You can find more information about the 2010 Global AIM Congress here.

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