Accelerated transformation in the past two years reflects heightened focus on project implementation as a logical outcome of research into new concepts and wider partner engagement. Appointed Head of Air Transport Innovation in 2020, Laurent Renou is steering the policy shift to reflect current industry trends. “The focus is on innovation, industrialisation and deployment. There is still room for exploratory research, but we can help bridge the gap between research and implementation.”
The new focus coincides with the start of Europe’s latest airspace research programme, SESAR 3. The European Commission initiative aims to deliver the technological solutions needed to achieve modernisation and digitalisation of air traffic management in Europe through a series of research and innovation projects.
“We have a pragmatic approach," explains Laurent Renou. "Our role is to bring agility to the SESAR programme. For example, we can launch ideas and quickly develop prototypes in partnership with airspace users within a 12-month period that fulfil SESAR objectives. The Innovation Hub serves to harmonise what will be delivered and provide a mechanism to full-scale SESAR initiatives.”
EUROCONTROL Innovation Hub intends to provide a forum available to all 50 members of SESAR 3 that aims to promote a methodical and systematic approach to the activities.
Early results from the new way of working will be demonstrated in Summer with the introduction of two Artificial Intelligence (AI) prototype solutions developed during the first innovation cycle launched in collaboration with airspace users in 2021. Swiss, Transavia and Vueling Airlines are fielding algorithms developed by EUROCONTROL to manage flight planning in an operational environment. The first predicts departure delay in advance, enabling the airline to better schedule operations on the ground to minimise delay or divert resources to more critical departures. “Even an hour’s advance warning helps to optimise ground operations,” explains Laurent Renou. The second helps airspace users to manage curfews at airports such as Zurich or Paris-Orly. By flagging up possible curfew difficulties early in the day, airlines have the opportunity to mitigate against delays on the last leg and avoid diversion costs.
The Innovation Hub launched a second innovation cycle in April 2021 with eight projects. Some of them already achieved promising results that were presented during our Promote Event on May 17th. While airspace users were involved in the three initial projects, the second cycle expands the network of operational stakeholders working with the agency, adding air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and airport authorities, for which three projects each were selected. The projects last for 6, 12, or 18 months depending upon the complexity and stakeholders involved, with a third cycle launched in November 2021 that includes two projects dedicated to military applications and a third one proposed by AENA, the Spanish Airport Authority, which are due to conclude in November 2022. The fourth cycle has just been launched during our Promote event with four innovation projects submitted by Istanbul Airport, LFV (Swedish ANSP) and Vueling Airlines.