"It is an integral part of the EUROCONTROL Air Transport Innovation Network (EATIN), which started almost three years ago, to complement the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme, and address the immediate operational needs of stakeholders," said Laurent Renou, Head of Air Transport Innovation at EUROCONTROL. "This is a very agile six-month process where the operational stakeholders propose their challenges and prioritise among themselves the most promising ones. Last November, we launched the fifth cycle, bringing together airports, airlines and ANSPs; six projects were selected."
Rapid prototyping and stakeholder collaboration are key elements in the Agency’s Innovation Hub EATIN strategy (see box "Results of EATIN activity"). Although supporting the SESAR programme remains the main focus of EUROCONTROL's Innovation Hub, this new work programme is an important catalyst in helping accelerate the development of niche aviation stakeholder ideas from concept to operational prototypes.
Before an individual stakeholder can pitch an idea for Innovation Hub support it confers with other stakeholders to see if this is a generic problem which needs solving. So pitches represent the needs of several organisations, with typically between four to seven operational stakeholders joining one project. This does not preclude others from joining or gaining from it – what the Agency calls an "Easy In, Easy Out" approach – but the earlier proponents join, the closer the solution will be to their operational needs.
"We've seen partnerships come together where a project has been pitched by an airport but two or three airlines have also decided to join," said Laurent Renou. "Twice a year we organise open pitch sessions online, in March and October. We then do the feasibility assessment, which is quite a thorough exercise. Based on the topic proposed, EUROCONTROL assigns an Expert Panel, which evaluates the feasibility of those proposals, and we develop what we call an Innovation Trifecta which includes a feasibility, desirability and viability assessment. We do not want to be managers, we are the doers, so the teams are agile and very light. We focus on producing tangible solutions."
According to Peter Choroba, Head of Innovation Programme at EUROCONTROL: "The target is to go from idea, prototype development up to testing in an operational environment – bringing the prototype into live trials within six to 12 months. We develop the prototype, rather than an industrial product." Since its launch, the new innovation strategy has gathered increasing interest from across the aviation value chain and by the start of 2023 had launched 24 new projects. "There are many means of innovating," said Peter Choroba. "The operational stakeholders work with local start-ups, with venture capitalists, with universities to present on how they innovate, and we put ourselves in listening mode so we can better adapt our innovation service offering. The innovation world is rapidly changing, and we must adapt as well. In the past, we were doing primarily top-down research, not working closely with operational stakeholders. We reversed our approach since end-users needs faster solutions."
“"We joined the EATIN initiative because we wanted to speed up innovation," said Marie Carré, Manager Operations Research and Air Traffic Management at Swiss International Air Lines, "especially for smaller projects which really targeted our needs. We wanted to support and benefit from the EATIN developments through these six-month partner-tailored projects. EATIN is doing a lot of work on predictions, for which we do not have the resources nor the right data to look across the whole range of predictions from all stakeholders. Thanks to EATIN, we benefit from prediction models based on very good historical and live data sources and built iteratively thanks to the expert knowledge of all involved stakeholders. This is one of the strengths of EATIN."