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Overcoming Challenges In Providing Air Navigation Services

Originally published on LinkedIn:

aerial view of British Columbia Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island overlaid with flight paths and aircraft arriving and departing the airspace

In a recent article published in The Economist, the author talks about the challenges that an aging air traffic control system is having on the safety of air traffic once it leaves the ground (“Antiquated air traffic control systems are becoming a serious threat to safety”). Since 9/11, a great deal of effort has been put into preventing potential problems getting onto planes, but not so much into making things safer in the air.

Air navigation service providers (ANSPs) manage the information necessary for the safe and efficient operation of all flights that intersect with their jurisdiction. They make sure that the information is distributed in a timely manner to everyone who needs it, including aircraft crews, airport staff, and ANSPs in adjacent jurisdictions.

Air traffic management (ATM) involves a complex, interconnected set of services that include weather stations, navigation aids, various types of ground stations, air traffic control centres, radars, and systems for managing airspaces, air traffic flows, and air traffic capacity. ATM is increasingly focused on harmonized systems that have minimal impact on aircraft as the travel between airspaces. Modern aircraft need services that match their capabilities in order to operate at maximum efficiency. Much greater levels of interoperability are now being required that current infrastructures are not always able to deliver.

Challenges facing Air Navigation Services

At any given time, there are thousands of aircraft in flight, and thousands more taking off from or landing at airports. Part of the responsibility of ANSPs is to make sure that all these aircraft are safely separated from each other.

Safely and effectively managing increasing levels of air traffic will become critical if the number of passengers traveling by air more than doubles in the next 15 years, as it is projected to (“Air travel demand projected to double in 20 years”). ANSPs face increasing challenges to air safety caused by this rapid growth. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, are coming more widely into use, and are starting to occupy the same airspaces used by commercial and military aircraft, posing additional threats to safety and increasing the need for monitoring and control.

Increasing density of air traffic will demand higher levels of safety, but unfortunately much of the infrastructure used by ANSPs is years out of date, and the implementation of modern technologies is slow in coming.

Modernizing Air Traffic Management

As with any organization, when considering solutions ANSPs need to make sure that they protect their legacy systems as they implement new technologies to modernize processes, increase efficiency, and lower costs.

More and more countries are privatizing or commercializing their air traffic control systems so that they are no longer managed by government. This is being strongly supported by the International Civil Aviation Organization and others. NavCanada is one such model that has been successfully operating since 1996.

Commercial organizations such as NavCanada are more free to be innovative and to modernize their processes and systems to realize greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Dependence on federal funding is perceived as having the potential to cause serious problems for both the operation and the modernization of air traffic control systems.

One of the ways that NavCanada has cut costs is by doing as much of the engineering and software development in-house, and by adopting an approach of rolling out new technologies as a process rather than as “big bang” launches. NavCanada also monetizes its knowledge by selling technology that it has developed to other providers.

Adopting Standards and Standardized Systems

According to the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), “A growing number of organisations within the civil aviation sector are adopting standardised management systems to reinforce their performance and guarantee the reliability of their results.”

Requirements from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for safety management and the provision of aeronautical information services (AIS) have been driving ANSPs to develop their own systems in order to meet service performance. AIS performs a vital role by ensuring the flow of safety and other information in international air navigation, and ICAO governs how the information is handled with the goal of having uniform consistent data.

CANSO has developed the CANSO Framework for ANSP Management Systems which “provides a pathway for ANSPs to develop their management systems to ensure that they gain maximum benefit from their processes, activities and actions. It also forms a strong baseline for discussing organisational needs between ANSPs, benchmarking and continuous improvement.”

ANSPs focus on the delivery of value, and balancing value with service and safety. Standards provide great benefit for interoperability, allowing ANSPs to exchange data with each other with greater safety and to a higher level of quality. Standards also make it easier to integrate systems, and to combine different types of data, for greater safety and effectiveness.

Imperatives for developing the next generation of air traffic management are being supported by initiatives such as NextGen in the US and SESAR in Europe. System-wide information management is driving the integration and interoperability of systems, and the wider adoption of open standards. ANSPs can take advantage of these and similar initiatives as they continue to improve safety levels and invest in new technologies to bring their processes and applications up to modern standards while still protecting their legacy systems.

Further Reading:

Antiquated air traffic control systems are becoming a serious threat to safety

Air travel demand projected to double in 20 years

Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent : an integration challenge

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #129


Nav Canada Draws Interest in U.S.

Civil Air Navigation Services Organization
CANSO Publishes New Standard of Excellence: ‘A Framework for ANSP Management Systems’

CANSO Framework for ANSP Management Systems

CANSO Standard of Excellence in Safety Management Systems

Aeronautical Information Service