Innovation is central to progress

This covers
Raúl Medina

Raúl Medina, Director General of EUROCONTROL

Aviation has always innovated, making huge leaps to become the global industry it is now, with over 10 million flights a year just in Europe.

However, the rate of change is set to accelerate as a response to the major challenges we are now facing, several of which are described in this edition. Sustainability dominates much of the discussion, with the ambitious target of achieving NetZero by 2050 dictating action across the sector: from making ATM much better at enabling fuel-efficient trajectories, to a revolution in the production and supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

We will also see new propulsion types such as aircraft powered by electricity or hydrogen. These aircraft will have to share the skies not only with existing aircraft types, but also with drones and aircraft transitioning to or from higher altitude operations or even space.

There will also be new types of military aircraft and we should be prepared for the current surge in military operations to continue into the future.

In addition to all of this, we still see demand for flying. As discussed in this issue of Skyway, there may well be a move away from short-haul, domestic flights and more use of alternatives, but we are still forecasting around 50% more flights in the network by 2050. Radical change is clearly vital.

Fortunately, the potential for change is massive. Digitisation is moving more rapidly than ever before and, at Network Manager level, we have a number of major changes in the pipeline as part of our iNM programme. More generally, the impact of AI using big data sets is only just starting to be felt – but is already providing new insights into how we can improve performance.

Recognising the need for change is the first step. A detailed and coordinated plan is also vital. Within ATM, SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) provides a roadmap for many of the advances we need. Within SESAR the entire industry comes together to work on the future, with EUROCONTROL’s Innovation Hub playing a major role. EUROCONTROL has long had a strong commitment to innovation and over the coming years we will be investing to strengthen our capabilities and provide even more support to our stakeholders.

We are also involved in the vital next step of making sure that innovations actually make a difference – through the SESAR Deployment Manager, based at our headquarters in Brussels.

One new development is the recent appointment (by the European Commission) of EUROCONTROL to act as the CNS (Communications, Navigation and Surveillance) Programme Manager. This recognises the importance of CNS and also the fact that a much more coordinated approach is required across Europe to ensure sufficient coverage, to reduce the extent of duplication and to continue the process of transitioning to a much more digital, data- rich future.

It is an exciting time to be working in aviation – but also it demands of us the commitment to make sure that we can make the transition to a much more sustainable, more efficient industry that responds to society’s imperatives.

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