Brian Bruckbauer

Brian Bruckbauer, President & CEO Air Traffic Control Association

There are many issues to overcome to realise a more unified and integrated airspace system in the future, writes Brian Bruckbauer, President & CEO Air Traffic Control Association.

2022 marked my 30-year anniversary in the air traffic control field. Initial training as an air traffic control officer was with the United States Air Force, and it was exciting stuff for a newly minted second lieutenant. There were times when the sheer depth and breadth of the ATC coursework was overwhelming, but hard work and great instructors enabled me to make the cut into this extraordinary field. I took my career all the way to the rank of brigadier general, becoming the first career air traffic control officer to reach the rank of general in the US Air Force.

I look back on that time fondly, knowing that the hard work then has led to a rewarding career, full of incredible experiences and lifelong friendships. It also led me to the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) as its President and CEO. Much has changed in the field of ATC training over the course of those 30 years, especially in the technologies employed in that training. There are also considerably more educational options available to individuals wanting to pursue a career in air traffic management. All of us in this profession and industry need to play our part in recruiting new talent to take over the current operations being conducted, as well as the new and exciting future that we envision.

That future and the air traffic management industry of today faces many challenges. There are a host of issues to overcome to realise a more unified and integrated airspace system in the future.

First, we must agree on the data architecture we need to seamlessly integrate general aviation, commercial aviation, military aviation, uncrewed systems and space launches. This will inform how things that operate in the airspace connect to one other. It will help to inform how artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to assist with keeping our skies safe. Trust is another key component of this architecture, so data protections and security protocols will play a vital role in building and maintaining confidence by airspace providers and users, and those along for the ride. There will likely need to be some creativity in how this data architecture is paid for – in the US it could be funded by the United States Government, or potentially the aviation industry could present a business case solution. I’ve visited air traffic companies and spoken to several professionals in our industry. We have the knowledge and expertise to do this, now it comes down to having the will to do it. If we agree we want a seamless, connected and safe airspace system that integrates all airspace users, the data architecture is the lynchpin that will help us achieve success – and we all need to work together.

The second major challenge I see, and we are starting to make progress on this, is that the various aviation sectors need to do a better job of working together on airspace integration solutions. Today there are instances when a win for space launches could be seen as a loss for airlines, or a win for the airlines could be seen as a loss for the military. We need to look at our airspace systems differently, and this will require taking a critical look at our current concept of operations so we can create solutions to do more integrating instead of accommodating. If we can harness the power of multiple sectors and agree on what this digital approach to integrated operations looks like, it has the potential to drive better, faster, and scalable solutions. After only a couple of months on the job as the President and CEO of ATCA, I saw airspace integration as a piece of the puzzle where ATCA could truly make a difference, to move the industry forward in helping each sector to truly be successful.

In the fall of 2021 when I transitioned from my career in military air traffic management and aviation to ATCA, I met numerous industry stakeholders to better understand the entire aviation and airspace landscape. What I learned was that the advanced air mobility, unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management and space traffic management areas were expanding and ATCA needed to evolve. The ATCA team updated the association’s strategy to more clearly reflect the changing nature of airspace management. Today, our updated vision includes airspace integration as a top priority: to serve air traffic management users, providers and industry partners by promoting cooperation, development and safety in all aspects of airspace integration, and to further the efforts, needs and success of our members. Our motto also evolved into ATCA – leading the charge on airspace integration.

ATCA Global 2022

But we didn’t make changes in name only. We wanted to ensure the conversations on airspace integration took place to allow for the key players to gather and solutions to be discussed. In the fall of 2022 at ATCA’s Global Conference and Expo we completely reimagined the event to include robust discussions on ATM (air traffic management), STM (space traffic management), and UTM (unmanned aircraft traffic management). We created dedicated theatres for three days of programming from experts within each sector, along with exhibits and networking, and ATCA Global was able to shift smoothly to become better aligned with all the key operators vying for access to airspace.

As a member-based association largely comprised of individuals who work for corporations within air traffic management we knew many of our corporate member companies were also expanding their offerings to air navigation service providers (ANSPs) beyond ATM, so we needed to provide value to these organisations, thus shifting our focus to airspace integration. This allowed us to have a broader appeal to various business lines within industry and to also appeal to new companies such as those in the drone market.

In 2022 ATCA hosted our final World ATM Congress, and with the ending of that event we brainstormed how we could continue the conversation about airspace integration. We have ATM, UTM, STM, drones and so on, all continuing to rapidly increase operations – but the elephant in the room is how can all of them operate safely and efficiently in the same airspace? Additionally, around the globe each of these sectors are at various stages in their development and the airspace in which they operate has different regulations.

We decided we needed an international event to discuss all facets of airspace integration. We created Airspace Integration Week Madrid. The only event of its kind, showcasing all facets of airspace integration and therefore including ATM, UTM, STM and a transversal area of civil-military cooperation. Taking place in Madrid on 25-28 September 2023, it is the premier event on airspace integration and hosts the most comprehensive agenda on the relevant issues within the global airspace.

A review of the programmes planned for our Airspace Integration Week Madrid reflects the evolving technologies within our industry, and the challenges and opportunities that come in effectively managing them. Seminars include New Satellite Applications for the Aviation Sector; Autonomous Aircraft: Day One vs. Scaled Operations; Estimating Ground Risk in Urban UAS Operations; and Launch, Range and Re-Entry Operations from the Airspace Integration Perspective. Such topics would have seemed so foreign to us 20 years ago that they would have been dismissed as “too futuristic”. Well, the future is here, and it’s up to us to cooperate and collaborate with each other to ensure the future works.

Today is an exciting time to be a professional within the ATM, STM and UTM industry. We all face many challenges, but they are not insurmountable, as long as international cooperation and collaboration is fostered. I am proud that ATCA is doing its part to provide the venues where problems can be discussed, solutions brainstormed, and hopefully equitable solutions found in the future that are in the best interests of all involved in airspace operations.

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