In an evolving aviation industry, where flexibility, efficiency and cost reductions are fundamental to continued growth, Gerald Enzinger, managing director of Frequentis Comsoft, discusses how the industry can simplify surveillance data distribution.

In ATC, the need to integrate an increasing number of surveillance systems is well-known. Air navigation service providers (ANSP) and airlines are all operating multiple systems which they require to carry out their respective roles. Nothing stands still when it comes to the system landscape, which is constantly evolving due to different system lifecycles, updated standards, data formats or technology changes. The issue is that these disparate systems often cannot communicate or share data effectively.

In the modern and changing ATC world, the new generation of workforce is demanding innovation and as a result, surveillance methods like ADS-B and Multilateration are becoming more common as contingency solutions. ICAO mandates are also pushing this forward. Additionally, digital tower and remote towers are gaining momentum across Europe thanks to increased safety and efficiency benefits, and this trend is now also being explored in the United States.

These changing technologies that are more open and promote data sharing can result in the stability of surveillance distribution environments being at risk. With known and unknown technologies entering this space, maintaining quality and safety in the surveillance data chain is a continuous challenge. The amount of surveillance data handled in the last decades has already increased with the advent of new sensor technologies. This trend towards exponential data growth will only intensify. The emergence of drones creates a quickly multiplying amount of airspace users.

Ensuring the quality of surveillance information for ANSPs cannot be handled solely by increased network bandwidth and processing power. It will become more and more important to have insight into surveillance information in order to identify the information required for each type of user to prevent flooding them with unneeded information.

The driving force for change in the industry has always been increased efficiency and cost savings, while maintaining or enhancing safety, it is standardisation and interoperability that are the backbone of these things. Of course, replacing legacy systems is a costly task and ANSPs will implement new technologies and procedures at differing speeds, so the focus needs to be on interoperability and ensuring the successful interconnection of all systems that are providing data.

Streamlining data processing and distribution

Airspace users need a centralised platform that will monitor, configure and control any type of surveillance data that is gathered. The goal is to reduce the complexity of managing the surveillance data chain and increase the efficiency of staff, when operating a single platform.

The next generation of Surveillance Data Distribution Solutions (SDDS-NG) enables all surveillance sensors, processing systems and other data users to connect seamlessly and organises all surveillance data services into a single infrastructure. It acts as a single data entry point where it can analyse and filter data. By integrating sensor data, air situation pictures and control and monitoring data, a surveillance service network can be formed. This integration includes the conversion of data to and from standard or non-standard formats, as well as the ability to filter the surveillance data depending upon the requirements of every individual end user.

Improved information flow and information exchange and a maximum transfer delay for sending and receiving data of no more than 50ms can be supported, despite the amount of information increasing. Minimising the overload of data on a user’s network and different processing systems is also possible thanks to the surveillance distribution system’s ability to filter data based on user specifications.

To consider two different scenarios, an airport might require surveillance information in a limited geographical area, whereas a civil/military or international exchange requires further filtering of specific data out of the same surveillance information. These distribution and filtering capabilities for normal operation are complemented by several means to ensure the best quality of the surveillance services in a constrained situation.

How does this work?

Individual and configurable overload/protection mechanisms are built-in to support load dependant filtering and rapid switching of feeds on application level. Knowing that these tools can be configured to automatically react based on changing conditions gives authorities the means to focus on their main task to ensure safety and security in the skies.

Additionally, the impact of issues in the underlying network infrastructure on the operational surveillance service can be minimised. This layered design gives the ANSP the necessary flexibility not only to interconnect any vendor or generations of surveillance data sources and consumers, it also allows for comprehensive vertical integration with underlying software defined networks (SDN) on top of a heterogeneous infrastructure.

With an additional ADS-B integrator the data streams of all assigned ADS-B sensors can be processed and then duplicate data, such as identical aircraft information received by several ADS-B sensors, can be automatically removed, significantly reducing the input data for the surveillance data processor (SDP).

It’s a reality today

A perfect example of an ANSP that required a comprehensive but simple to understand surveillance data service was Germany’s Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) which manages the highest traffic volume in Europe. Around 2,000 air traffic controllers manage up to 10,000 flights per day in the German airspace, that’s more than three million movements per year.

DFS planned a centrally managed distribution of all surveillance data users through a network connecting four ACC sites in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich. Two networks, one operational and one test network currently consist of 27 network nodes, exchanging surveillance data between more than 200 different systems. All surveillance data at DFS goes via these centrally managed networks minimising operating expenses for DFS while still maintaining a highly safe and secure sensitive environment.

SDDS-NG is the application gateway for surveillance data to interface to all partner systems while ensuring rapid automatic switching between alternative data paths and providing every user with surveillance data according to their specific needs. The integration decouples the interdependence of the systems involved and supports smooth transitioning of DFS’ heterogenous environment during a state of constant evolution.

There are now multiple users operating vastly different systems, transmitting masses of data but needing to communicate seamlessly with one another. The quality of the air situation picture depends on the availability of the different surveillance data sources but the key point is that this safety-critical information needs to be filtered and processed in real-time. When a data integrator understands surveillance data it can maintain technical performance metrics and provide alerts to quickly notify administrators when a problem occurs.

I believe that only simple and straightforward designs of the ever more complex systems operated by ANSPs allow them to address current and future challenges with regards to safety and security. SDDS-NG-based surveillance service networks provide insight into surveillance data as the key enablers to the integration of heterogenous surveillance chains for any ANSP.

Giving ANSPs back the choice

In the aviation world there is never a ‘one size fits all’ provider. ANSPs require the flexibility to decide upon the solutions that best fit their needs and choose their own timescale for modernisation, not feeling limited to one vendor or pressured by the upgrade rates of others. To be efficient they need to integrate systems from different vendors and have the ability to choose when to replace or update systems instead of investing large amounts of money into making ongoing small changes. A flexible system integrator gives that choice back to the ANSPs ensuring they can keep their systems as long as they desire and make appropriate investment decisions – they should have the capability to say when and what they do.

Gerald Enzinger has been the managing director of Frequentis Comsoft since January 2016. For more than two decades in his previous career, Enzinger held engineering and senior executive management positions in the global aerospace and defence industry, working in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and in the US. Prior to heading Frequentis Comsoft, Gerald was chief executive of a high-tech company where he was engaged in developing and implementing sophisticated multimedia and augmented reality solutions.