OPINION: Jason Harfield

jhAirservices Australia’s executive general manager Jason Harfield explains why the nav services business model will be upended

Are air navigation service provider (ANSP) business models losing relevance? As management of global air traffic continues its evolution towards collaborative information-based services and becomes increasingly less dependent on ground-based infrastructure, will ANSPs become irrelevant?

ANSPs must adapt and at the same time evolve their value proposition to remain relevant. This isn’t negotiable, and a response to this shift towards collaborative information-based services is critical for survival. It’s no different to other industries, when a lack of response to a changing paradigm results in critical market players becoming irrelevant or even disappearing.

It’s accepted that there’s a limit to efficiency without a harmonised and collaborative focus. The components that make up the ATM system such as airports, airlines, the military, other airspace users, suppliers and ANSPs, recognise they must all work in a more cooperative and collaborative way to effectively and efficiently manage the overall system.

The adoption of operating concepts, such as Collaborative Decision Making (CDM), which are accelerating the shift, is assisting the overall ATM System to safely, effectively and efficiently manage air traffic growth in an increasingly capacity constrained operating environment. At the same time network management and decision making is becoming more distributed in an effort to communicate the right information, at the right time, for each decision maker to achieve the optimal outcome for their business or mission.

This means that the current path of ATM can no longer just be about operating and being managed as a network – it must further diversify to operate and be managed as a ‘network of networks’.

A comparison with another ‘network of networks’ – the Internet — suggests that an ANSP could effectively become just another node on the network. The ANSP will no longer be the sole source of pertinent mission-critical information, and this information could be accessed, collected and distributed from other nodes or from a multiplicity of nodes. Conceptually, will there still be a requirement for a “one-stop-shop” provider?

Take trans-Flight Information Region (FIR) CDM programs for example, where there’s the transmission of information directly to an airline (or aircraft) to manage ground delay programs into an airport. The airline/aircraft is operating from an airport in another FIR and the ANSP of the destination FIR is managing a ground delay program by directly bypassing the ANSP of origin! In this situation the ANSP is no longer part of the flow management service chain!

Competing companies are already combining to take advantage. And while perhaps not able to operate in a traditional ATM third-party service model (in this space they have to be suppliers), in a ‘network-of-networks’ environment, they can add value directly to airspace users and compete effectively in the provision of information supply and distribution services. A tempting cost-effective alternative when these companies are not constrained by the expectation to provide a full suite of services, nor constrained by the legacy ANSP infrastructure and cost base!

So are there any uncertainties clouding this evolving operating environment? In my opinion there’s two – one technological the other strategic. The technological uncertainty is opaqueness of what technology standard, product or configuration will ultimately provide the most effective service. The strategic uncertainty is similar but broader, as there will be a variety of strategic approaches being pursued by industry participants. These uncertainties are primarily driven by poor information or blindness to the attributes and needs of customers, potential competitors and industry conditions. This can be seen by various ANSPs continuing to focus on sovereignty and service models restricted to geographic constraints rather than service models based on the whole of flight and globalism.

The characteristics of this operating environment can be summed up as an emerging air traffic management industry rather than a mature air traffic control industry. Legacy service provision is analogous to services offered by a declining industry.

In this emerging industry, the term customer is not limited to the airlines and other airspace users, but also expands to all ATM industry participants. That is, any participant that’s a node in this ‘network of networks’ has the potential to be a customer (as well as a competitor)!

In successfully navigating this emerging operating paradigm and remaining relevant, an ANSP will need to evolve from simply providing traditional ATC services to become a provider of competitively agile network information services.

But imagine the relevance of an ANSP if it can respond and then exploit this emerging operating paradigm and maintain an already established monopolistic market share! This article first appeared in Aviation Week.

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, Corporate, Features

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