Europe’s airports see potential in future Network Manager deployment remit

European airport chiefs have cautiously welcomed a move that would see the eventual replacement of the SESAR Deployment Manager by a centralised Network Manager.

Europe’s airport trade association ACI-Europe noted the potential solution to getting the Single European Sky back on track in a new report delivered to the European Commission by the so-called ‘Wise Persons Group’ of aviation experts.

The report which sets out recommendations on the future of air traffic management (ATM) in Europe advocates a far more centralised approach to delivering efficiencies, based on new roles and responsibilities for the Network Manager – a function currently performed by Eurocontrol.

The Network Manager could eventually be responsible for managing Europe’s airspace, ATM capacity and infrastructure. – meaning the Network Manager would encompass enhanced day-to-day operational network functions, strategic oversight of ATM capacity planning and delivery, and also replace the current SESAR Deployment Manager.

“Europe’s airports do not object to such an approach – not least because the current ATM set up has proved unable to ensure defragmentation, which is instrumental to achieving greater efficiencies,” said ACI-Europe.

For the proposed new centralised approach to succeed, Europe’s airports said they considered that a new modus operandi based on increased cooperation between ANSPs, airlines, airports and the Network Manager as well as changes in ‘operational culture’ is essential.

“This will require a reconsideration of the governance and management of the Network Manager – to ensure an effective and meaningful industry involvement in its new roles and responsibilities. From a passenger experience perspective, while ATM network efficiency is key, trade-offs might be needed to protect local airport capacity,” it noted.

Europe’s airports said they also supported the recommendation for tower services to be based on contractual relationships as a key enabler for airport and ATM integration although noted that this would rely on ANSPs’ acceptance and regulators providing the right framework.

It also supported the report’s recommendations for increased operational integration between airports and ATM through data sharing and collaboration.

“This is welcome,” it said. “Indeed, ground capacity and airspace capacity are intrinsically interdependent. Ultimately, there will only be as much usable capacity in the sky as there is on the ground – and vice versa,” said ACI Europe which said it looked forward to becoming fully involved in the follow-up of the report.

What The Report Says:
“The Network Manager (NM) would identify the ATM infrastructure needed to support the future development of the network. This would be based on the Network Strategy Plan, as approved by the NMB and European Commission, that should be adapted to include provisions related to the ATM infrastructure needs of the network. This needs to be in line with the European ATM Master Plan.
Based on this, the NM would verify, through consultation with ANSPs, that their investment plans contribute towards network delivery and the achievement of the performance targets. The NM should also play a role to support the economic regulator in identifying systems that should be removed from the regulatory cost base so to ensure the transition of the European ATM system towards a digital environment.
In order to close the gap between R&D and deployment the Infrastructure Manager would need to establish a close working relationship with the SJU, EUROCAE and EASA.
Transition from SESAR Deployment Manager to Infrastructure Manager 
As it will take time to properly establish the Infrastructure Manager function in the EUROCONTROL NM, it is necessary to establish appropriate transition arrangements between the current SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM) activities and the future Infrastructure Manager. Therefore, it is of key importance that the currently planned activities of the SDM continue to ensure that the current deployment momentum is preserved and that all stakeholders deliver.
This will ensure a smooth transition between the current and future arrangements. The new Infrastructure Manager function in the NM will take on board all the positive developments achieved by the SDM; notably it should preserve the broad industrial partnership that has been created, including operational stakeholders, to ensure system-wide deployment. The current SDM is contractually committed until the end of 2020 with the partnership agreement extending to 2023, which should provide enough time to undertake a proper transition, including dissemination of accumulated lessons learned in the SESAR deployment process.”