The Aviation sector, including Air Traffic Management, is experiencing a major financial crises due to the Covid-19 pandemic that challenges many parts both in the short and long term perspective. In parallel, the focus on the environment is growing and it’s a top priority. The Covid crises exposed the total functional system as not being sufficiently resilient, scalable and flexible to adapt to rapid changes. Lowering the environmental footprint,will require new solutions, innovations and ways of working. This calls for new initiatives as well as accelerating the ongoing digital transformation of ATM.
ATM is a key part of Aviationand also a part of the critical infrastructure. The main taskfor theAir Navigation Service Providers (ANSP’s) and the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCO’s)is to maintain safety by keeping the Aircrafts separated, “safety first”.Positioning of aircraft through sensors, voice and data communication, navigation aids (CNS) and ATM systems are key technical components.
Already at the beginning of the 21thcentury lack of capacity, causing delays, too high costs and the impact on the environment was discussed in Europe. It triggered the start of a European transformation, the Single European Sky (SES) initiative, including the SES legislation, the research and innovation program SESAR (SES Advanced Research) and to deploy the mature results from SESAR, later on the SESAR Deployment program.Even before Covid-19, there was criticism that the implementation of new results with real benefits is to slow. This initiated studies by European institutions and other groups, whichagain highlighted digitalization, speed of innovation, time to market, the European perspective, defragmentation and a strengthened focus on the environmental impact.
Another driver for change is the fast growth of drones, including their management (UTM), that in many cases will require full or a very high degree of automation. The influence on ATM will increase and it will accelerate digitalization. The combination with electrical aircraft provide new opportunities and in particular for the environment.
The outcome of the above mentionedstudieshave been consolidated in the new European ATM master plan and further developed in the SESAR Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA). The third SESAR program is about to be launchedto support and accelerate the development.
A good starting point for describing thelong-term objectives of the transformation, even though we will never go there fully, is to think about the European airspace as one including sufficiently standardized systems, ways of working, regulations and airspaces. Add a digital European backbone, based on open standardized architectures, allowing for fast and simple horizontal integration of systems and services, high speed data communication between all actors and everything being cyber secured to a level accepted by all stakeholders.