Providing efficiency, safety and capacity in difficult times

16 February 2017

“The Network was in good shape in 2014 and 2015. But in 2016 the delay has increased; clearly not enough capacity at the right time was delivered into the system.  Yes the traffic has recovered – in 2016 it was the highest ever – but it was still only a 2.3% increase compared to 2015.

If the temperature of the European network is the delay figure then, with the 2016 delay per flight figures, it seems that the Network has a slight cold. It is feeling weak and susceptible to any disturbance, deficiencies in any part of the Network and not able to cope with serious disruptions.

What does this tell us about the European ATM system? Can we meet the challenges in 2017 and in the years to come? I am afraid that doing more of the same will not be enough.” This is how Joe Sultana, Director Network Manager opened the plenary session of the 20th User Forum, on 24 January 2017.

Following the initial plenary session, a number of specific sessions were held; the main take-aways from the various sessions are set out below.

Operations feedback

The plenary session kicked off with a feedback on 2016 operations reviewing the performance successes and weaknesses. Chris Woodland (Thomas Cook Airlines and chair of the Airlines Operations group) summarised the experiences of aircraft operators in 2016: increased delays (capacity, weather, air traffic management transitions, disruptions) and difficulties in coping with free route airspace implementations. Speakers reiterated the importance of using the network efficiently.

What we will improve

The main debate focused on how the Network Manager and its stakeholders will improve the performance in 2017. Ludovic Isnard from the French Direction des services de la navigation aérienne (DSNA) and Gianni Lenti, Head of the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC), launched the debate on the importance of direct coordination and good communication on planned events, especially in a period of change, such as the continuing shift of traffic from east to west due to the political and security situations.

More specifically, the NMOC will continue the initiative to support the Greek airports during the summer and apply the same concept in other hotspot areas at airport level. The south-west axis and the Canaries will require maximum focus as the shift of traffic can be expected to continue unless the political/security situation changes.

The issue of the EU261 three-hour delay claim for passengers has become significant and there was an interest in how the Network Manager might help. The use of a hotline would be considered.

In terms of weather delay, Gianni Lenti encouraged all to take a more proactive approach as NM strongly believes there is a lot to gain, both for en-route and airports.

Towards RP3/CFSPs’ response

Computer flight plan service providers (CFSPs) were offered the opportunity to share their views on the future operational developments in CFSP services and their role as an additional network partner. More particularly, the issue of the network not achieving one of the flight efficiency indicators (the horizontal indicator relating to the last filed flight plan) was debated, including what might be a more appropriate set of indicators. Data consistency and the issues caused by the new Free Routes Airspace were discussed and the need to involve CFSPs and aircraft operators at an earlier stage was highlighted. Aircrews also have to be engaged.

Technical evolution session

The digital aviation panel, composed of Skyguide, Geneva Airport, EasyJet, RocketRoute and Network Manager (NM) experts, led the technical evolutions session. New business models are required, going beyond silos and requiring openness and trust. Technology does not replace cooperation and communication between actors. The internet and new technology increase the exposure to cyber-attacks, but new technology also brings us better tools to protect ourselves against these attacks; we need to leverage this technology and not refrain from innovating. The panellists insisted on the power of exposing services and letting the community explore them, which in turn will bring about an explosion of new ideas and products. “We need speed – to create value from the new technologies, and trust – to build safe products and services”, concluded Jean-Pierre Aiguier, Head of Network Technical Systems (NTS).

How can B2B benefit your organisation?

Many operational organisations are increasingly using NM Business-to-Business (B2B) functions in their operational processes. The panellists presented their experience and described actual and potential benefits. B2B allows for better use of all data available. Aviation Cloud, Jeppesen, BAE Systems and USAF exchanged their views and experience. J. Vince from Jeppesen confirmed “NM B2B changed the way we file flight plans; it saves 25% of my working life by removing the need to read, interpret and encode airspace data published on paper. This results in having more time for more added value tasks”.

Airports – APOC & CDM, a new way of working

The relationship between an airport operations centre (APOC), the FMPs, the NMOC and the users is crucial for the full and efficient integration of airports into the network. Participants confirmed the need to review the current means of flow management. Assessing airport slot information, both in the planning phase and operationally, was considered to be beneficial, while injecting airport constraints (e.g. through Target Time Arrivals) into the flow process could improve the management of traffic and capacity. Aircraft operators would benefit from more precise background information for their decision-making while consolidated airport information and management would add value to network operations.

Advanced ATFM techniques

The Collaborative Traffic Management approach facilitates full involvement of all operational actors, including aircraft operators (AOs), in establishing the solutions ('scenarios') for Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management (ATFCM) constraints. This provides full transparency on their operational impact and means that user preferences can be taken into account. The use of the DSNA Collaborative Advanced Planning (CAP) tool in France has demonstrated the benefits of this AO involvement, including improved predictability and a reduction in traffic complexity; this benefits ATC capacity. Current issues experienced by neighbouring ANSPs are expected to be addressed through a more network-wide application of the processes, looked at in the context of the SESAR2020 PJ24 demonstration.

The feasibility and benefits of Target Time operations have been seen in the iStream demonstration, in terms of improved predictability and flight efficiency (including. smoother arrivals and less holding time). Session participants supported the approach but stressed the importance of airport involvement in defining Target Time applications and the need to improve the communication of the benefits to the AO and pilot community. To move ahead on both enhanced ATFCM and Target Time operations, AO participation in the PJ24 demonstrations is essential (through the SESAR Open Call).

Predictability and moving to 4D trajectories

Improvements in predictability (while maintaining a level of managed flexibility) continue to be very much required for current operations and performance; they arealso a prerequisite for further ATM improvements such as AOP/NOP integration, Extended AMAN etc. Predictability improvements will also be supported by ongoing activities such as those in the Flight Plan Predictability Action Plan, the wider implementation of Free Route Airspace, ASM/FUA processes, A-CDM & Advanced Tower airports and also flight data exchange with states neighbouring Europe.

The first steps for the implementation of the ICAO FF-ICE concept were presented (and demystified); this also covered how the associated Planning Service (addressing the AO preferred trajectory before submitting the flight plan) will benefit predictability. The time scales are challenging and the presentation was an important heads-up for the participating AOs and CFSPs. The NM system will be prepared for exchanging FF-ICE/1 compatible flight plan information in 2017-2018, and AOs & CFSPs were advised to participate in the associated consultation groups and demonstrations.

Enhanced AMAN

Chris Wilson presented the experience of sharing Arrival Management results at NATS with adjacent centres and explained the goals for the future. The aim for NATS is to seek the cooperation of other ANSPs in Europe in order to optimise arrival sequencing for Heathrow. As part of a FABEC project, it is intended that the concept will be extended to other airports.

The presentation was particularly interesting for the audience and was followed by in-depth technical and operational discussions. One important issue raised was that, although XMAN is ATC-focused, there is a need to synchronize enhanced AMAN with other advanced ATFCM concepts as Target Times and enhanced Demand-Capacity-Balancing.

Next edition

247 participants from 39 different countries attended the NM User Forum this year. ANSPs and airlines were the most represented communities, followed by CFSPs, airports, and ground handling.  

In 2018 the NM User Forum will be held on 24-25 January so mark these dates in your agenda now!

“The User Forum is the best forum for discussing operations in an open way; we hope to see you all next year,” concluded Joe Sultana.

Related news