European ATC moots common digital backbone

The A6 Alliance of air navigation service providers and Eurocontrol have launched a joint initiative to establish a “digital backbone” to underpin the Europe-wide systems and technology developments supporting the move towards a Single European Sky (SES).

They have issued a white paper exploring how a shared data exchange infrastructure can be set up by the European ATM industry, and are looking to initiate an inclusive industry-wide discussion among operational stakeholders on how best to achieve it.

Roberta Neri, chair of the A6 Alliance, said: “Our industry needs to rely increasingly on automated sharing, merging and presenting of information from diverse sources. Digitalising our business end-to-end will support incrementally improved operational performance adding great value to our airline customers. To achieve this important goal we need a coordinated approach. The white paper, introducing the concept of a SES Digital Backbone and its collaborative and inclusive governance, is a first step towards achieving a consensus in our industry on how best to do that.”

Eamonn Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol, added: “This white paper is a means of bringing the industry together to establish that “backbone” for digital transformation.  This is a major project for European ATM and to achieve it we will all need to be very flexible whilst having a strong core. Working together with the A6 Alliance has demonstrated how similar our thinking is around the future infrastructure, and now we need the wider industry, including airspace users and airports, to consider our suggestions and to make their own.”

The SES Digital Backbone (SDB) would underpin the essential data exchange infrastructure to create an over-arching framework for the wide range of SES implementation projects. Initially it proposes to build on the successful NewPENS approach to expand this to other key systems projects such as Data-Link and System Wide Information Management (SWIM) common components and ensuring interoperability support.

Over time and where necessary, the scope could widen to include further shared IT capabilities required for the inclusive, safe and cyber secure end-to-end digitalisation of European ATM. Eurocontrol’s expertise and facilitation capabilities would be an important asset in realising this evolution.

The White Paper highlights the importance of coordinating important decisions such as how stakeholders can access operations-grade information and which technologies are introduced to the SDB and when. It advocates that effective set-up, operation and evolution of the SDB require the input of all operational stakeholders.

To this end, the White Paper proposes the establishment of an all-inclusive SES Shared Services Alliance (the “3SA”), to pursue three main objectives:

  • Ensure the SDB operates in best market conditions for shared services and technological components;
  • Establish a collaborative and inclusive governance to ensure the SDB meets operational stakeholders’ needs;
  • Provide a common forum for fostering collaboration on shared technologies.

Neri said: “Better access to data, and sharing it, requires a common “backbone” in order to modernise our industry and to create the capacity needed to meet growing demand and to increase efficiency. There is a pressing need to accelerate the evolution of the European ATM system. This includes making sure that operational stakeholders can effectively and efficiently integrate technological solutions developed by SESAR. We need a light and agile approach to help achieve that. We are convinced the SES Digital Backbone, governed by operational stakeholders on a “by-industry-for-industry” basis through the SES Shared Services Alliance, could be the way.”

She urged stakeholders from across the industry to consider the White Paper on the Eurocontrol website at www.eurocontrol.int/SES-digital-backbone and offer their feedback to sdb.comments@eurocontrol.int.