The future of Air Traffic Management - the Single European Sky in a global aviation network

Aerodays 2011, Madrid, Spain

Four hundred years ago the English poet John Donne wrote the now famous line “No man is an island”.  His view was that we are all interconnected – that no-one can stand alone without taking account of the rest of the world.  He certainly lived a full and interconnected life himself – not least as the father of twelve children!
And this view – that we are all interconnected – is certainly true when you consider modern aviation.  It’s not just the speed of aircraft nowadays, it’s the sheer number of them in the skies.  A summer’s day in Europe will see about thirty thousand flights – that works out as another flight every three seconds in our airspace.  And that demand, that number of flights, is starting to grow again.  Indeed our latest medium term forecast predicts an average growth rate of nearly three per cent.

And almost every one of these flights will affect another – maybe delaying its take-off or forcing it to change its routing, to go into a hold before landing or even just to make a longer taxi to the gate.  Indeed, it’s because of this interaction that we have a central flow management system – making sure that we manage the congestion in our busy skies.

And that flow management is a tangible example of the network approach that we have adopted in Europe.  After all, on this side of the Atlantic, we are a patchwork of generally quite small countries.  One could say that the history of European Air Traffic Management has very much been one of seeing how we can bring that patchwork together into a system.

And there have already been some real success stories.  Not just flow management but also route charges, network planning and the management of scarce resources.  The Single European Sky is the next step forward in the same direction. 

I said a step but in fact it’s a giant leap because it really does have the potential to change the way we do things.  There is technological change through SESAR, as we’ll hear from Patrick Ky.  But we’ll also have real change by bringing the air navigation service providers together in Functional Airspace Blocks, by providing tough performance targets, as Juan will describe, and by creating the role of Network Manager.

And I’m pleased that EUROCONTROL is contributing to all of these elements of the Single European Sky.  In particular, through the nomination to undertake the Network Management functions, building on our experience of flow management and network planning.

Because the network will become even more important in the future, not just because of the rising traffic but also because we will not be able to meet the performance targets of tomorrow without thinking and operating as a network.
And that network is much wider than one might think.  Both in terms of scope and also geographically.  I say in scope because the network must now include the airport component – we need to plan and coordinate gate-to-gate – or even kerb-to-kerb as Steve Creamer might say, looking at the entire journey of the passenger, including through the airport. 

We also need to involve the military – not just because the civilian side is affected by what they do but also because they are affected by civil aviation.  We have good experience here of working with the military on the Flexible Use of Airspace – making sure that military airspace is available to the military when they need it but also that it’s made available to civilian traffic when that is possible.  This makes more efficient use of the airspace and allows aircraft to fly more direct routes, reducing both costs and emissions.

But the network also needs to go much wider, also geographically.  We at EUROCONTROL already cover an area much larger than the EU – we have 39 member states and we handle flow management and route charging beyond that membership for a number of neighbouring countries.

However, even working with the whole of Europe is still too limited.  I say that because approximately 20% of European flights start or end their journey in another continent.  In some airports the figure is much higher. Heathrow for example is 37%.  So almost two flights out of five going in and out of Heathrow are not fully covered by the central flow management system we have in Europe.

And that means we end up with inefficiencies such as long-haul aircraft racing each other to be first in the queue for Heathrow’s holding pattern, rather than arrivals being properly planned and properly coordinated.  So we have to look at how the different regions can work together – we need to coordinate with our neighbours and provide airspace users with the service that they need. 

Now we already do that with some states in Africa, such as Morocco.  However, in aviation terms, neighbours can be thousand of kilometres away – for example in North America; we need to coordinate even better there as well.

But it’s not really just a question of working with our neighbours – we do need to think globally.  In part because everyone is a neighbour of somebody else.  But perhaps more important, and more relevant for this conference, is the need for global interoperability.  Aircraft fly all over the world and we can’t afford to end up with aircraft having multiple systems and with crews having to be trained and certified on many different procedures.  And that’s not only more expensive, it’s also less safe.

Now I’m not saying that means a “one size fits all approach – but we do need interoperability.  And we need it not just in the air but we also need it on the ground.  Just one example – we’re working in Europe on what’s called System-Wide Information Management, or SWIM.  A key enabler for that is getting the framework for data exchange right – what’s called the Aeronautical Information Reference Model. 

We at EUROCONTROL have been working on this for some time and indeed we’ve just yesterday released a second version of the model.  Crucially, we’re also working closely with the FAA on how this can be aligned and evolved so that we’ll be able to exchange data with them.  Just one example of how we shouldn’t just think in European terms, we do need to think much more widely. 

Indeed, we need to make sure that we work together on a global level – and that means at ICAO in Montreal.  And to do that most effectively, we need to make sure that we in Europe speak together with a single voice.

Now the main reason for this single voice is, of course, is to make sure that we come up with the right solutions for Europe and for our unique airspace.  But it’s also important for European research.  Having an effective voice will give greater visibility for solutions developed here. 

And if those solutions are already developed with an awareness of the global needs then that means they are much more likely to be adopted.  Indeed, a solution that works globally is also more likely to be adopted here in Europe. Because Europe needs solutions and standards that will work globally.

Over the years, we’ve learnt that if we try to optimise at a national level, then we miss out at a European level.  And, in my opinion, in the same way, if we try to optimise just in any one region, we will miss out at a global level

Now we have a remarkable breadth of research talent here in Europe.  And we need to do all we can to support that talent and make sure it results in a real economic benefit. 

That means several things.  In part it’s getting the structures and the funding right – for example, we need to start thinking ahead on what happens after the SESAR JU.  Setting aside what we need to do for SESAR funding, we need to make sure that we do have public funding – in particular for the more exploratory, more radical research that is essential, but is many years away from operations. Because, by its nature, this sort of research isn’t well supported by the private sector. We must remember that we have very long lead times in this industry – as highlighted by the Flightpath 2050 initiative, published this week. 

But supporting European research also means ensuring that it has every opportunity on a world stage.  And a large part of that is getting the interoperability framework right – making sure that the solutions we’re developing will work on the worldwide stage.  We need to strengthen Europe’s voice and we need to strengthen our participation in the worldwide ATM research network.

The Single European Sky is a vital step forward for Europe.  There is still a lot to do to make it a reality.  But it will only be truly effective if, as we build it, we make sure that we recognise its position as only one piece of the puzzle – just one part of a global network. Thank you