Disruptive Influences

Dave Vos, Google slimWhat will the future look like, what influences will prevail and how best to start preparing for new business models? Aimée Turner assesses industry opinion in the latest issue of Air Traffic Management.

Someone once said you should always give tomorrow the best chance you can. As an industry that is always playing technological catch-up, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

So how best to prepare for a future where the only thing you can count on is the uncertainty wrought as a consequence of the speed with which others are adapting around you?

It was a subject that tested the minds of ATM leaders at this year’s SESAR Showcase held in Amsterdam in June.

Todd Donovan, vice president of strategy for air traffic management at Thales, expresses the reality of the industrial challenge: the high hurdle of safety that prevents the industry from moving as swiftly as it could – or indeed should.

Earthbound and the industry can count on a lag of something between 3-8 years to develop something of significance. If it is anything that operates at 35,000ft, the lag can be anything up to 20 years. “The point we are at today is that we all know that trajectory based operations and managing flight more strategically is the way to manage the network and operations better, so the industry now has an opportunity to really investigate how best it can utilise the technologies that have matured in recent times and that puts a new focus on flight optimisation,” says Donovan.

Interestingly, those maturing technologies often reside outside the traditional sphere of ATM influence – and experience. They may reside within other allied aviation industry segments – or they may be found completely without. One thing is for sure, roles and responsibilities that have become embedded within established stakeholders profiles face the prospect of fast becoming obsolete as the benefit of new technologies gain value and their practice spreads.

Franck Goldnadel, ADP’s chief operations officer and managing director at Paris Charles de Gaulle, admits that his business model has undergone a revolution.

“Ten or 15 years ago, you could as an airport manage your activity entirely on your own. That era has ended. Now you manage with a common goal as a collaborative activity together with other actors because you don’t own all the secret elements to be able to fine-tune your operations.”


When it comes to ANSP operations, most agree that there exists huge scope for optimisation in terms of driving costs out of system while providing the same safe service. Centre virtualisation and remote towers are emerging here as the first, small baby steps, that can be ‘owned’ by the industry.

But it comes as no surprise then that when the safety-induced industry lag butts up against the compelling appeal of exotic technologies, there is business to be done – even if that possibly has to be delegated.

Donald Ward, head of the FAA’s NextGen International Office, believes that technology should be viewed as merely an enabler not an end game. “It is essential to move forward and to adapt your business model. Aviation moves so slowly we almost wish for disruptive technology but it’s hard to get there.”

He cites the example of when the FAA handed slot swapping control to the airlines which in his mind fundamentally changed the business model. “It is a great example of how – if you want optimise and take away barriers and do what is best for everyone –  you really need to break away from traditional roles and responsibilities and look at them in a new light and attempt to start from a clean sheet.”

So what constitutes a truly disruptive technology?

Paul Ravenhill, director at UK based consultancy Think Research, believes a technology is normally considered disruptive when it creates either a new market or a new value  proposition within an existing market.

“ATM with its conservative attitudes and  high regulatory barriers has so far been  rather resistant to new business models –  although with encouraging signs in the tower  ATS services market. However, technologies  like Remote Tower and Virtual Centre  are breaking one of the biggest defences  – you no longer need to be ‘local’ to provide  the service. Both remote tower and virtual  centres allow an ANSP to offer services to  anyone anywhere,” he says.

“Very soon, an airport with the right set  of sensors and interfaces will be able to  competitively tender the tower ATS service  from any ANSP with suitable remote tower  control room – that is real competition keeping  prices low and performance high.

“Further in to the future you could even  envisage a state using a competitive dialogue  to select one or more ‘virtual centres’  to provide en route services – potentially  buying more capacity for the summer season  than they do for the winter season.  Flexible service provision combined with  competition to ensure the right service at  the right price.”


Big data is another phenomenon confronting  the industry with a whole different weather  system that promises to transform its landscape.  The industry has already seen several  businesses within it own ranks cranking  up huge data machines in a bid to fuel the  engines of an early global ATFM models but  there are barbarians at the gate too.

FlightGlobal’s recent acquisition of Flight-Stats indicates an obvious consolidation of  aviation data as well as a widening of the  scope, touching now air navigation as well  as air operations. It has been the provider  of aircraft data to the air operations industry  for years fuelling data to forecast demand  and evaluate trends in fleet composition and  research expansion potential.

“The air navigation world – ANSPs and  airports – have never been very interested in  such data, neither did the operations world  think air navigation could provide anything  to complement their business intelligence,”  explains Marco Merens, ICAO’s chief of  integrated analysis.

After all, getting data from ANSPs was difficult as most radar data was stored on  tapes and considered sensitive while Metars and Notams and other aeronautical information,  available freely, are of no real use for business intelligence.

“This was not counting on two technological breakthroughs around 2010: the arrival  of smartphones and the global implementation of ADS-B,” says Merens. “There are  currently three main companies who have deployed their own ground ADS-B receiver  network: AirNav Systems, FlightAware and FlightRadar24. The availability of such data made real-time airport and airline delay calculations possible, something FlightStats made its business out of, feeding the airline  industry with delay information calculated using ADS-B flight data.”

And as Joe Sultana, director of the Network  Manager, Eurocontrol, pointed out in  Amsterdam, 4D trajectory based operations  will rely critically on dependable mission data  for aircraft not only operating within and  leaving Europe but also the 20 per cent of  traffic entering Eurocontrol airspace.

“That is where collaboration and the exchange of data with our neighbouring  regions will be an important aspect of reliable 4D. We also need to be looking at the  supply of capacity so we need to have updates  of all the network or ATM constraints  in real time,” he says.

“We also need to understand where the airlines want to go, to understand their decision-  making, their priorities. We also want to make sure the data is there and shared and  that everyone has the same view.”


And then there is the ultimate disruptive technology: the unmanned aerial vehicle,  a technology which is sorely straining the benevolence of those aviation rule-masters  who regulate the pace of industry innovation with regulatory barriers.

Figuring out exactly how to manage  drone traffic is going to prove critical if the likes of Amazon and Google are ever to  deliver packages direct to the backyards  of their customers. The regulator does not  have an easy job however as there are some  subtle differences between how Google and  Amazon want to approach regulation.

How new technology could enable existing business services to be competed Tower ATS providers – remote tower farms could compete for the service based on a common interface definition En route ATS – virtual centres present the same opportunity albeit with a high regulatory tariff CNS – new technologies, such as LDACS – the potential successor to VDL2 – could be deployed by a company that currently provides mobile communications. Data Services – as the industry transitions to SWIM, does Google or a business with a similar ability to provide distributed secure services make more sense than building its own?

How new technology could enable existing business services to be competed
Tower ATS providers – remote tower farms could compete for the service based on a common interface definition
En route ATS – virtual centres present the same opportunity albeit with a high regulatory tariff
CNS – new technologies, such as LDACS – the potential successor to VDL2 – could be deployed by a company that currently provides mobile communications.
Data Services – as the industry transitions to SWIM, does Google or a business with a similar ability to provide distributed secure services make more sense than building its own?

Google basically wants a system where drones declare where they are and what   they want to do before they take off – an  automated ATC system with a non-critical link  back to base. Such a centralised system then  updates their mission profile along the way.

Amazon, on the other hand, looks to be  adopting more an inflight sense-and-avoid  technology – something not so focused on a  central command-and-control structure.

Both however are working together with  the United States’ NASA and the FAA on the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management  (UTM) project where the idea is to  carve out a space of airspace between 200  and 500 feet that would allow for commercial  drones and to build a system that would  allow for managing that traffic.

While the UTM project is a long-term venture whose conclusion is not anticipated until  2019, one of the major stumbling blocks for the plans of the Amazons of this world is a  FAA stipulation that drones have to stay in the line of sight of the operator at all times.

In response, Amazon has decamped to the United Kingdom to test its system with  the blessing of the its regulator. Amazon, however, has been substituted on its home turf by the patient PrecisionHawk, which  manufactures drones for agricultural use. This business has now been given the goahead to use its fixed-wing flying machines  to fly beyond the visual line of sight to fly an  entire farm, not just one field, efficiently

PrecisionHawk will be applying its own ‘low  altitude traffic and airspace safety system’ or  LATAS to enable its drones to automatically  avoid other air traffic and obstacles encountered  while in the air.

The business will still have to fly in accordance with other rules as laid out by the FAA,  including keeping away from crowds and flying only during daylight hours. Still it’s an  achievement for a pioneering business.


And then there is Aireon – the groundbreaking  space-based surveillance  technology which could open up huge new  opportunities in terms of routes and optimal  operations that could not only transform the  ATM landscape but could also challenge  the airline order of the world when it comes  on stream.

For example – and this is only wild  speculation – Irish low cost carrier Ryanair’s talks to feed passengers to Norwegian Air  Shuttle from airports including Dublin, Cork  and Belfast could be significant.

The deal – as many have noted – would  be another transformative step for Ryanair –  even in simple airline industry terms. A shift to an operating model that includes lining  up with long-distance routes is an ‘inevitable development’, Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary  believes, with transfers to established long haul airlines potentially accounting for around  5 per cent of Ryanair’s traffic by 2021.

What impact does this have on the world  of ATM, you may ask? Well, it could have quite a lot, potentially.

Norwegian’s potential launch of long haul transatlantic operations from all over Europe  with Ryanair as the feeder airline could  completely throw the long haul market – and  more importantly throw transatlantic ATC  into some disorder to say the least.

“Don’t forget that the Single European Sky allows an operator to go to any point it likes  outside Europe,” says one observer. “If there was an opportunity for Ryanair to operate transatlantic services using Norwegian  aircraft, there would be an even bigger chaos than today where ATC struggles to  manage existing point to point operations.”

“You stick a load more traffic on those routes which is a bit more ‘free radical’ rather than the very stable system that you  have at the moment and the current system will not operate. So you are going to need an Aireon-type system to be able to control that  new environment,” says the industry expert.

A collegiate approach will doubtless prove essential if ATM – whether global, regional  or local – is to function in optimal fashion. It goes without saying therefore that the willingness  of all stakeholders to step back and  determine what is the best way to collectively  deliver the best service will be crucial.

“If we are unwilling to look at the roles  and responsibilities and operational  concepts and ask ourselves whether we  can do this better, it will be very difficult to  change,” says Thales’ Donovan. “Technology  is not the barrier, the barrier is the people  and the processes and the way people  work together.”

Paris airport chief Goldnadel agrees, pointing out that ultimately he can only lay  claim to a single piece of the network: “If we want to reach the objectives for the  airlines’ benefit we need to share information  and deploy projects that improve  performance. That is why SESAR has been so formative  as it allows operators and actors within  the network to come together with the  manufacturers to develop and implement  new systems to increase capacity.”

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