The new CNS Programme Manager’s role and challenges

Paul Bosman & Predrag Vranjkovic

Paul Bosman, Head of ATM Infrastructure, and Predrag Vranjkovic, CNS Programme Manager at EUROCONTROL, explain how the Agency is tackling the challenging new task of contributing to the modernisation of Europe’s CNS infrastructure.

EUROCONTROL took on a new role as CNS Programme Manager at the start of 2024, created to accelerate the upgrade of Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) equipment across Europe. The task is one of 12 recommendations made by the CNS Advisory Group convened by the European Commission in 2020, and responsible for the 2022 CNS Action Plan. EUROCONTROL’s approach is intentionally centred on providing objective views, in addition to education and support, to meet the plan’s ambitious targets. Its leadership role also recognises that modernisation relies on participation from across the industry, involving extensive input from air navigation service providers (ANSPs), regulators, industry, airspace users, civil and military operational stakeholders.

CNS infrastructure is an essential technical enabler for the provision of air traffic services. The European ATM Master Plan describes how CNS infrastructure should evolve by deploying new systems and rationalising existing systems to take advantage of synergies within the system. In practical terms, however, ground infrastructure modernisation needs compatible on-board equipment and this can mean costly avionics upgrades with airlines only recouping their investment in a harmonised environment. As a result, progress has been slow and uneven, leaving a large number of nationally operated legacy CNS systems which the CNS Advisory Group says are costly to maintain, energy inefficient – adding environmental cost – and reduce spectrum efficiency. In contrast, transitioning to modern digital technology in an increasingly optimised network offers a route to more efficient CNS services with greater resilience, scalability and increased automation. For example, by implementing datalink services, system wide information management (SWIM), secure Internet Protocol networks, advanced surveillance services and benefit-driven Performance-Based Navigation (PBN), airspace users gain access to more services from less infrastructure. These new capabilities help to reduce the cost of CNS services, estimated at around €1.2 billion/year (en-route) currently , improve efficiency and reduce associated emissions.

EUROCONTROL launched a series of stakeholder meetings in 2023 in response to the Commission’s proposal for the Network Manager to coordinate CNS evolution activities. Bilateral meetings with ANSPs, SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU), SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM), the Performance Review Body (PRB), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), European Defence Agency (EDA), airline representatives, professional staff organisations and EUROCAE identified key objectives for the next five years along with an initial project management plan approved by the Network Manager Board. The CNS Programme Manager function is part of Network Manager’s tasks defined in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/123.

CNS evolution plan

CNS rationalisation comes with many challenges, not least persuading investing operational stakeholders of the benefits of transitioning to smarter technology. Protecting national security and defence missions also impacts investment decisions, as do local cost structures. The ATM Master Plan defines the evolution towards the targeted CNS infrastructure as being composed of a core network based on an optimised combination of ground and space-based technologies. This is complemented with Minimal Operational Networks (MONs) of conventional infrastructure that are needed to maintain services in case outages occur in the backbone infrastructure, for example interferences affecting satellite navigation signals. One of the first tasks of the CNS Programme Manager is to translate this vision into a CNS Evolution Plan setting out the main steps to achieving this goal with short-, medium- and long- term objectives. Updated on an annual basis, a first version due at the end of 2024 will drive this process in cooperation with all the relevant stakeholders.

Among early initiatives, decommissioning unnecessary surveillance infrastructure will bring immediate safety benefits by reducing the number of interrogations demanding spectrum bandwidth. Aircraft transponders designed to support 50-60 interrogations per second are known to receive double this volume in some parts of Europe where multiple secondary radars operate in close proximity. The resulting frequency congestion risks degrading technical performance and adds to operational and maintenance costs for individual States.

Europe’s legacy ground-based navigation aids also soak up unnecessary costs when newer, more versatile navigation systems are available. Some States have already begun decommissioning VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) equipment and Non-Directional Beacons (NDB) while supporting Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) capabilities onboard modern aircraft with GNSS and an optimised network of Distance Measuring Equipment (DME). PBN gives airspace users the flexibility to navigate in line with operational needs, instead of being constrained by the ground locations of navigation beacons, while also supporting more accurate trajectories. Maintaining a minimum number of ground-based navaids provides resilience in case of interference to satellite signals.

Europe’s established infrastructure provides further opportunities to create synergies between systems, especially where facilities operate in close proximity in neighbouring States. Sharing processed data across borders requires robust and secure data sharing agreements and not all States are ready to reduce terrestrial infrastructure, for example countries bordering on conflict areas. The operational needs of military and civilian service providers are central to the CNS evolution plan and will be reflected in a performance-based approach that allows technology diversification while ensuring availability and continuity of service.

A sector not subject to immediate decommissioning but set to benefit from CNS modernisation is Europe’s communication infrastructure. Here, new technology will augment existing communication services, for example enabling datalink exchanges between flight crews and air traffic controllers, freeing up congested VHF channels and automating routine functions. In addition to faster, more accurate messaging, newer technology supports service provision for new entrants and U-space services. However, deployment of high-performing datalink infrastructure has lacked clear direction despite evidence from SESAR research of the benefits in terms of safety and capacity. An enabler for future operational needs and concepts including four-dimensional trajectory management, the technology became mandatory from 2020 under EC Regulation (EU29/2009) but continues to experience compatibility and performance issues.

The CNS Programme Manager strengthens EUROCONTROL’s datalink performance monitoring group in several ways. Working with all relevant parties, the CNS Programme Manager cell strengthens the root cause analysis of outages and identifies responsibilities to resolve compatibility issues between air and ground equipment. The activity affects ANSPs, aircraft operators, manufacturers and service providers such as the future Datalink Service Provider and other communication service providers; it will notably build on the newly established ATS Common Datalink Service (ACDLS) governance to reduce the current fragmentation existing in datalink service provision.

EUROCONTROL is also upgrading its datalink laboratory with the latest interrogators, transponders and receivers to allow faster diagnosis when issues arise. The datalink laboratory is designed to support similar validation activities for surveillance and navigation performance. Finally, the CNS PM cell monitors emerging communications technology including SATCOM Class B, L-band digital aeronautical communication system (LDACS) and Internet Protocol (IP) solutions that will make up the future communications infrastructure.

Common solutions

Successful implementation of the CNS evolution plan relies on close stakeholder cooperation and support. EUROCONTROL’s contribution extends to education and engagement, rather than enforcement, placing special emphasis on a collective responsibility to realise the programme’s aims. This includes developing robust CNS implementation business cases (network and local level) for any given infrastructure in support of decision making, as well as identifying financing and funding opportunities and exploring possibilities of financial incentives for all stakeholder groups concerned, to synchronise and accelerate the evolution of the CNS infrastructure. Achieving a successfully accelerated and synchronised rollout of CNS ground equipment and associated avionics/on-board equipment is challenging in itself, and generating the financial resources to fund such an approach, in a time of continued financial stress, is a challenge of similar magnitude.

"To ease the process, EUROCONTROL is re-enforcing its joint CNS stakeholder platform to engage with experts and stakeholders."

The CNS Programme Manager also identifies potential regulatory recommendations, for example to include in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations, the link with performance review scheme, and to be addressed through the ATM Master Plan framework. This ensures that issues that arise through monitoring of CNS evolution and at implementation or local level do not stall the CNS evolution and can be resolved using existing mechanisms. To ease the process, EUROCONTROL is re-enforcing its joint CNS stakeholder platform to engage with experts and stakeholders. This community provides a “working interface” to share knowledge and expertise as well as concerns about the programme. The programme manager is currently working on ways to engage with military representatives to bring this community along the same pathway when it comes to the rationalisation, resilience and national dimension of CNS infrastructure.

The CNS Advisory Group: 12 recommendations

  1. Translate the Master Plan’s CNS roadmap into a CNS evolution plan with short-, medium- and long-term objectives, priorities and decision points.
  2. Improve cost-efficiency through rationalisation, including decommissioning of CNS facilities, maintaining robustness while ensuring safety and national and global/ international security.
  3. Implement CNS infrastructure applying a technical performance 3-based approach in a way that is simple and cost-efficient.
  4. Conceive an integrated CNS evolution maximising synergies and addressing physical and cyber security for Communication, Navigation and Surveillance services.
  5. Develop a long-term EU strategy and policy to improve aviation spectrum efficiency as a driver of the CNS evolution.
  6. Reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the CNS infrastructure to maximise aviation's contribution to achieving European net zero carbon emissions targets.
  7. Demonstrate operational and technical interoperability and scalability of the infrastructure before deployment.
  8. Develop robust CNS implementation business cases involving stakeholders at the earliest possible opportunity.
  9. Ensure smart use of incentives to support stakeholders in implementing the CNS evolution plan.
  10. Apply a smart(er) approach when developing technical CNS regulations to support the implementation of the CNS evolution plan.
  11. Establish a holistic CNS programme management to ensure successful implementation of the CNS evolution plan using or adapting existing entities to maximum effect.
  12. Consider the importance of the human dimension aspects related to the evolution of the CNS infrastructure.

For the next decade, the CNS Programme Manager will contribute to modernisation of CNS infrastructure and airborne equipment, building on current rationalisation plans and assessing network needs versus individual States. Finding an appropriate equilibrium between these approaches will result in the delivery of a consistent level of service across Europe, harmonising the approaches to rationalisation through a pan-European lens. Importantly, it will establish a process to support coordinated investment efforts by operational stakeholders and be able to demonstrate benefits including improved safety, operational efficiency, reduced emissions, increased capacity and lower infrastructure costs.

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