Article

Moving to new Network Manager Ops Centre is a step change in European airspace digitisation

New Network Manager Ops Centre

An interview with Steven Moore, Head of ATM Network Operations, EUROCONTROL.

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of EUROCONTROL as we celebrate the entry into force on 1 March 1963 of the Organisation’s International Convention. Over the last 60 years EUROCONTROL has become a key player in the European aviation community, developing wider and deeper partnerships with all the relevant actors to make aviation safer, more efficient, more cost-effective and with a minimal environmental impact. This year marks another important milestone in the Agency’s history with the inauguration of EUROCONTROL’s new, state-of-the-art Network Manager Operations Centre. The new Centre is designed to ensure that EUROCONTROL, as the manager of the European aviation network, continues to meet the needs of operational stakeholders, digitising and modernising the way air traffic is managed over Europe.

The change-over from the legacy Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) to the new operating centre – “O-Date,” scheduled for the end of October 2023 – marks the next major step in the evolution of the Network Manager to a fully digital service (see below: “Network Manager starts on a digital transformation path.”)

“This is really the first deliverable of the integrated NM (iNM) programme,” said Steven Moore, Head of ATM Network Operations at EUROCONTROL. “It is the enabler for the first roll-out of the digital platform and a very visible investment not just in the building but in the time and effort that has gone cross-divisional and cross-directorate into making the programme a success. EUROCONTROL’s Member States have made a major investment in the programme and it is important to show how we are driving to the delivery of the targets.”

The new centre is far larger and more complex than the NMOC it replaces, reflecting the more complex role the iNM will play in optimising European airspace operations over the coming years.

There are five major operations rooms, the largest of which is the new NMOC. Then there is a technical engineering operations room where the technical support sits; a training centre (which could also be used as an operational area when overnight essential maintenance in the main ops area takes place); a prevalidation area where changes to airspace design, sectorisation and other associated procedures are trialled before they go live; and, finally, a space for user acceptance testing, where the new iNM software will be tested against the performance of the existing systems to benchmark and ensure usability and no degradation in performance before going live.

When the staff transfer to the new centre they will, to begin with, use the same systems they have been working with for years. But behind the screens there are some major changes.

“The new ops room is a virtualised concept, which means that we will connect on ‘O-Date' remotely to the existing servers that we have on site,” said Steven Moore. “When we introduce our new systems in iNM in the coming years we will simply connect to those remotely. We will then continue to work in the new ops centre on the same front-end hardware that we have today but the systems then will be entirely different.”

There are many benefits to this virtualisation. Clutter, heat, and noise radiation can all be reduced in the ops centre with the lack of hardware required at each of the positions, and it paves the way for the roll-out of the first waves of the new iNM system, planned for 2024 and beyond, all hosted in the cloud. This effectively future-proofs the New Network Manager Operations Centre against any costly additional requirements for new capabilities and technology add-ons.

The new building is BREEAM rated – the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) suite of schemes enables consistent and comparable assessment and verification across the entire built environment lifecycle – at the second highest level, as the highest level would have required a significantly larger level of financial investment against very little additional environmental benefit, according to the project planners.

“It’s cleverly designed, the bees love it,” said Steven Moore. “There’s even grass on the access corridor roofs to aid cooling, or warmth, depending on the season.”

It is fully self-powered by solar panels and recycles rainwater via its own storage and pump areas (with appropriate connectivity to the existing buildings for all power and water needs as part of redundancy). It is also self-regulating, so the senior technical and ops managers can decide whether they want the building warmer or cooler; the building automates this change by varying the amount of solar energy allowed through the windows. This means the new centre is relatively affordable to run and cool. It has been designed as a circular building as this is the most energy-efficient layout.

“This move to the new ops centre is a huge achievement for EUROCONTROL and all of its stakeholders, but most significantly it is a people-change transition,” said Steven Moore. “The simple art of walking right rather than left, of working in a different lighting, temperature and acoustic scenario represents a significant piece of change for our operational colleagues. The old centre was developed in the 1990s and has been added on and built over without any of today’s ISO norms of standards and space. In designing the new centre we had to take account of hundreds of different views and opinions and it was a real challenge to incorporate them all. I’m really happy with where we are. The road was bumpy, but we listened and we have been able to create an amazing new space.

And from a technical point of view, when the new iNM system is introduced (see also “Network Manager starts on a digital transformation path") we will already be in the new ops room, which make the learning required, and move to adding new virtual capabilities, far easier.”

Over 200 people will work in the new centre and the transition has been carefully planned.

“We’re going live on 30 October into the morning of 31.” said Steven Moore. The plan (at the time of writing) is that the night shift will turn up for work on 30 October in the new building and, after a complete handover, the afternoon shift will turn the lights off in the original ops room on their way home. We have planned a one-night cutover because we will be testing to the point of absolute confidence that it will work.

“We have planned it by taking that transition date and working back from there, starting with operating one or two positions live in the new ops room, shadowed by staff in the old centre, testing each of the positions one after the other.”

Starting with the transition date allowed the planners to look at all the problems that might occur which could stop the transition and not just operational equipment issues – no power, no lighting, no water, no coffee for the coffee machines...

“At this time in July, we have a list of over 400 topic areas that we need to ensure we pick up before we go live, from staffing levels at transition, to properly provisioned rest areas and toilets,” said Steven Moore. “We have a steering group which originally started meeting every month and, getting closer to ‘O-Date’, met much more regularly to make sure we get the updated reports on the human and technical issues, for both the essentials and the smaller things that we could forget.”

The old centre will remain in a contingency mode for three months after the transition. Over the past two years, since the “Spade in the Ground Ceremony” in August 2021, a major team effort has been undertaken which, although at times difficult, has moved the project from a patch of grass and some shrubs, to a fully functioning and state-ofthe- art Operations Centre, fit for the future of the Aviation Network for another 30 years at least.

“I would like to extend my personal thanks to everyone who has been involved in this project, external contractors of course, but especially those EUROCONTROL colleagues who have made everything possible and, without whom, we would not be able to envisage going live on time. Thank you, each and every one of you,” said Steven Moore.

The EUROCONTROL Network Manager starts on a digital transformation path

The EUROCONTROL Network Manager (NM)’s ten-year integrated Network Management (iNM) programme comprises a series of incremental renewals of all the NM’s main operational systems by 2030. NM’s legacy operational systems have been operational for over 25 years but are now reaching their technical limits in terms of performance and agility.

EUROCONTROL has entered into a strategic partnership with technology companies Indra and Atos-Cronos to work with other EUROCONTROL partners Cegeka and Sopra Steria to deliver the iNM programme. iNM will result in a scalable solution that meets NM’s performance requirements for decades to come.

At the heart of iNM will be advanced capabilities and new services that support the evolution of operational concepts over the next decade and beyond, encompassing:

  • Enterprise architecture;
  • Agile development;
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning;
  • Big data and data analytics;
  • Probability modelling;
  • Predictive analysis;
  • Cloud solutions;
  • Scalable systems;
  • Cyber resilience.

iNM will enable NM to transform its business services, resulting in three key deliverables: a single flight manager system that seamlessly manages both flight and flow domains; a unique dynamic airspace system that eliminates overlaps and inconsistencies between legacy systems and databases; and one API for internal and external human machine interfaces.

 

Timeline

Timeline
Steven Moore

Steven Moore

Head of ATM Network Operations, EUROCONTROL

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