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The pandemic has demonstrated the power of partnership

The pandemic has demonstrated the power of partnership

Director General of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) Simon Hocquard reflects on his first year in post, exploring how the outlook for aviation has changed and the role of collaboration in recovery and future success

The aviation industry is being tested like never before. From the heady heights of record air travel last year to the rockbottom demand we saw earlier this year, it has been a story of true grit and determination to keep air transport moving seamlessly and to pivot with ever-changing demand

It has also been a defining moment for aviation’s key players, both in terms of how we’ve come together to ride out this challenge – and the work that’s still left to be done. It is clear we each have our roles, but our pathways are intrinsically linked, and the more we can do to navigate this journey together, the stronger we will be at the other end.

This year marks 100 years of aviation (the world’s first air traffic control tower was commissioned by the UK government, heralding the start of mass air travel), so it is ironic that at a time when we would have been celebrating the amazing growth of the industry and the benefits it delivers, we have been left wondering what our future holds. There’s no doubt that air travel will remain an important part of our global infrastructure, but with dramatic fluctuations in traditional passenger demand coupled with the rapid rise of new airspace users like drones and commercial space vehicles, we are seemingly entering into a new era for aviation. One which will break the mould of the past and introduce new players into the mix.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit earlier in the year, it rewrote the plot for people and organisations worldwide. For air traffic management (ATM), and the aviation industry it serves, it was a twist like no other. Having navigated a decade of dramatic growth in every region in the world, we were suddenly faced with empty screens, vacant lounges and quiet skies as air traffic plummeted by some 80%.

Learning from the crisis

The lack of demand and movements sent shockwaves through the industry, and airlines, airports and air traffic management faced significant and immediate losses in revenue and solvency. What followed was a period of acute uncertainty. With limited State support and an unknown future for travel, the aviation industry had to devise its own lifeline.

From the deferral of ATC charges by airlines, to securing financial aid for air navigation service providers (ANSPs), CANSO worked hard to help ensure the liquidity of the industry in coordination with EUROCONTROL. But it became clear that no one partner can navigate the industry’s future on its own.

"The aviation industry will have to continue to grapple with changing attitudes to air travel, competing priorities for State support, and the ongoing puzzle of reducing costs without hampering efficiency, innovation and skills."

ATM cannot bankroll operations, nor can airports fund prime aviation facilities, just as airlines cannot shore up much-needed passenger demand and revenue with ongoing travel restrictions.

Looking ahead, the aviation industry will have to continue to grapple with changing attitudes to air travel, competing priorities for State support, and the ongoing puzzle of reducing costs without hampering efficiency, innovation and skills. It therefore needs to find ways to work cross-sector to reduce gaps in coordination and deliver a robust model for the future.

Working together

Collaboration comes in many forms – whether it’s global cross-industry coordination or the regional or intra-industry initiatives that support it. Through collaboration we can learn from each other and share innovation.

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Our collaboration in the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), for example, was a prime showcase of the power of partnership – highlighting how the industry and its stakeholders can and should work together to secure the future of the industry and the vital connectivity it provides. We need to do more of this – and not only because of the crisis, but because it is what we need as an industry. It is far too easy to focus on our own concerns but it is much more fruitful to share these and navigate them together.

On a regional level, CANSO has embraced the benefits of regional coordination. These include working together with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International (ACI) and the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) to ensure the viability of the industry during the crisis, and leveraging best practice initiatives like air traffic flow management (ATFM) in Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, to keep the industry moving efficiently.

Cooperation is vital in mapping out the industry’s future – whether that be implementing legislative change such as the Single European Sky (SES) in Europe or improving performance.

Take the environment for example. The industry is committed to ensuring not just a seamless recovery but a sustainable one too. It needs to continue the steps that have been taken to improve operational efficiency and reduce emissions, and collaboration plays a key role in this.

In Europe, CANSO has been working alongside IATA, A4E, European Regional Airline Association (ERA), the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE), the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) and EUROCONTROL Network Manager to launch an ambitious environmental initiative to facilitate “Perfect Flights” while traffic volumes are lower than usual.

By enabling aircraft to fly more direct routes and optimal vertical profiles, this joint initiative has set the aviation industry on a more sustainable trajectory as it recovers.

As we focus on strengthening our network and boosting performance, we must also consider how our airspace and airspace users are changing too. Drones, for example, have taken on an essential role in the remote provision of vital goods and services during the pandemic, and companies like SpaceX are propelling space travel forwards. These new users have new requirements that must be met alongside those of traditional users, and the industry must be ready for this. The We Are All One in the Sky initiative brings CANSO together in partnership with a range of aviation stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive and collaborative approach to integrating new entrants. Such cooperation is vital for safe and efficient air travel in future.

"From implementing the latest tools to adopting smart infrastructure, partnership is key."

From a technology perspective, we must also embrace the role that collaboration can bring. This year CANSO took the opportunity to establish a number of key strategic technology partnerships to share knowledge, data insights and expertise among the ATM community. In recent months CANSO launched a partnership with Aireon to leverage valuable high-fidelity satellite-based ADS-B data and track global and regional traffic trends; Metron Aviation to benefit from their traffic demand prediction tool that matches resources to the ebbs and flows of traffic and Micro Nav to make their cloudbased BEST ATC simulator platform available to build air traffic controller confidence in dealing with increased traffic after a prolonged period of low traffic levels.

And from implementing the latest tools to adopting smart infrastructure, partnership is key. Take remote towers for example: as HungaroControl and Searidge Technologies have shown this year, smart/digital towers are key to our future infrastructure, helping to build resilience and enable flexibility. If the industry is to have the capacity to adapt to fluxing traffic patterns and different airspace user requirements safely and efficiently, it is going to need innovative partnerships to help deliver digitisation and automation, remote ANS, training and maintenance and UTM.

Future forecasts

So while it has been a challenging year for the industry, it has also been an extraordinary year. Aviation has stood up to the biggest test in its history and delivered. What we do now, however, will determine the course of our future.

Collaboration has always been the cornerstone of the aviation industry’s success, and as the crisis has taught us, it enables us to be both resilient and strategic in planning for our future. While each aviation partner can build its own contingency measures, it is by working together that we will truly succeed.

Now we need to take it to the next level. We have to take a holistic approach to air transport, sharing our challenges and embracing opportunities for cooperation and innovation across the aviation industry. It cannot be done alone – but together, we can be a force for the future.

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