Fair Exchange?

After three years of collaboration, the US and Europe are fighting to stop conflicting technology agendas from undermining the transatlantic partnership
When it comes to aviation officials airing their dirty linen in public, there have been few washdays that have produced quite such a spectacular pile of soiled laundry as the one this summer, writes Aimée Turner.
The débacle was ignominiously splashed across the Wall Street Journal detailing US aviation officials’ fears over whether aircraft flying between the US and Europe would be able to use each other’s air traffic management systems as progress in NextGen modernisation stateside and its European counterpart SESAR gains pace.
The talk was of an impending breakdown in relations between those charged with setting standards in the field of data communications, something which risked undermining an aviation partnership that has to date been an example of perfect transatlantic unity – in industrial terms at last.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Michael Huerta has gone on record as pledging that economic uncertainties and challenges will neither deter the two trading regions from staying the course with their respective modernisation efforts nor prevent them from ensuring that interoperability remains at the fore of those efforts.
That however contradicted a warning delivered by John Hickey, one of the FAA’s top safety officials, that the US and Europe continue to move in different directions and risk undermining progress on both sides of the Atlantic. He told a US-European safety summit that he was becoming ‘greatly concerned about divergent paths’, including conflicting timetables and technical standards over data communication technologies. It was those comments that led to the recent unsettling media attention.
Hickey said he feared that with different timetables and requirements, full co-operation and agreement on the choice of specific technologies would ultimately break down which in turn would create a fractured global satellite-based network offering no prospect of seamless operations.
Hickey’s comments reflected internal FAA concerns that a two-speed political and economic deployment timetable risked setting a precedent that would lead to even further rifts and complications that could impact transformational technologies further down the schedule.
Gold Standard

It should have been all so much different. A 2011 pact promoting the gold standard of interoperability between the US and Europe was underpinned by a formal collaborative structure – principally through the workings of joint standards development committees made up of the membership of RTCA and Eurocae standards bodies.
So what is at the heart of this summer’s very public falling-out? Michael Standar, the SESAR strategy chief heading international relations, says that the two sides have since effected both a rapprochement and resolution and that the transatlantic spat was a mere storm in a political teacup.
“This has been an issue for some time. We needed to converge on a standard that we could push forward through both Eurocae and the RTCA which would fit the timescales of both NextGen and SESAR,” says Standar. “That’s been a discussion all along. The issue was more about timing with the specific programmes. It was our way of pushing and saying, look we have a memorandum of cooperation with the US, we are leading the two largest ATM modernisation programmes in the world so we need to come to an agreement.”
Standar’s colleague David Bowen who heads ATM operations and systems at SESAR says that because the issue over meeting deadlines was not being necessarily handled with any sense of urgency, a summit of FAA and SESAR experts was convened in August.
“What we did at the outset was draw up a clear statement of the needs from both the US and European positions in terms of which datacomm applications were critical for the two programmes and what the timings were in terms of deployment,” says Bowen. “It was really the timeline that was causing the issue as the Europeans are pushing for a nearer term initial deployment of some of these critical applications.”
Bowen explains that the Europeans want to adopt a more incremental approach with an initial roll-out in 2018 for some datalink capabilities with a focus on 4D operations whereas the US wants a later date but a more comprehensive roll-out.
“This was predicated on the publication of the standards by 2014 at the latest which would give industry the necessary time to start the industrialisation for equipage in time for an operational launch of 2018,” he says.
The US however adopted a different view, determining that there were a few missing elements in the set of applications SESAR had been working towards over recent years, highlighting three additional services it wanted to feature as part of a package termed ATM Baseline II.
“As such they came to the RTCA/Eurocae forum with a proposal to delay the publication of the standard of one to two years,” says Bowen.
This however posed a serious problem for the Europeans because that delay would prevent them achieving initial deployment by 2018. A solution had to be found that would meet Europe’s needs as well as satisfy the FAA’s desire to include capabilities such as dynamic RNP, advanced interval management and an ability to transmit wind information back to ATC.
Standar here points out that Europe is not against embracing these additional capabilities. “The difficulty we had is that if we kept on putting off setting the standards it would not be until 2023 that we had anything to work on. It was important for us to get something in place and build on the deployment experience we gain from validation.”
Bowen agrees saying that all standards evolve over time but that there has to be a balance between a stable stance that avoids the risk of industry and airlines having to reinvest while allowing evolution and new capability.
At Odds

In addition to conflicting timescales, the way in which both regions want to use datacomm is also at odds.
“The business case element of datacomm which for the Europeans is pretty much based on 4D trajectory management is not so pivotal for the US,” says Bowen. “The US has a very strong view in terms of the use of PBN and RNP etc and their core focus is on datacomm enabling those elements to be used more widely.”
“We have certainly nothing against that,” points out Bowen. “It’s just that our focus on 4D essentially allows increased predictability and less reactive management. I wouldn’t necessarily say any one is better than another, it’s just another perspective.”
The solution has been to establish a set of services which meet both European and US needs. Here, Bowen says it doesn’t make sense to go through a whole standardisation industrial and deployment cycle for just one single capability. “It makes sense to package them into a set of things some of which will be used in some places, some of which will be in others and some of which are used everywhere. The key is to make sure you have common equipage to avoid multiple investments.”
The solution will be embodied in a new co-ordination plan agreed between SESAR and the FAA which enshrines a two-step approach to capabilities. An initial version of the standards to be applied will be published in early 2014 as per the original schedule which will meet the initial needs of the Europeans. That will allow industrialisation of a product by 2018 in which initial 4D capabilities will feature.
The additional US capabilities will continue to be worked on within the Eurocae/RTCA forum which aims to publish a final standard that ensures these are compatible with the initial version sometime in the mid to late 2015 timeframe.
Bowen says industry has been deeply involved during the whole process and that the airframers Boeing and Airbus have this summer drawn up a joint position paper which provided an excellent catalyst to agreeing the two-step approach.
Michael Standar insists that the beauty of the collaborative result that has been achieved is that it recognises that a one-size approach is not appropriate or useful. “They might have their system, we may have ours. The important thing is that they have to be interoperable. What we can show is that we can achieve interoperability for seamless operations without having an identical system.”