Eurocontrol, ANS CR, Thales work to reduce controller workload

Eurocontrol, Air Navigation Services of the Czech Republic (ANS CR) and Thales have conducted a real time simulation to demonstrate how controller workload could be reduced by adapting the working method for early conflict resolution.

The adapted working method for controllers based on medium term conflict detection (MTCD) and datalink communications.

The adapted working method for controllers is based on Medium-Term Conflict Detection (MTCD) and datalink communications. It is a part of the SESAR 2020 PJ10 solution entitled “Increased Performance in the Provision of Separation” aiming to improve the air traffic controller’s conflict detection and resolution tools, principally by increasing the accuracy of the 4D Trajectory Prediction (TP).

Eurocontrol and partners had previously conducted a modelling study to determine whether improved TP would contribute to reducing controller workload. The study revealed that an important potential benefit of the improved TP is in reducing the number of low-probability conflicts, allowing the controllers to reduce the size of their notional ‘uncertainty buffers’, and thus reducing the number of potential conflicts to be analysed and monitored.

The study also revealed that enhanced TP could lead to earlier resolution of potential high-probability conflicts. This would be possible by adapting the controller team working method, whereby the planner controller would resolve conflicts, where appropriate, using route clearances sent to the aircraft via Controller-Pilot Datalink (CPDLC), either directly by the planner, or through coordination with the upstream controller. If this resolution action is taken before a possible conflict enters the executive controller’s ‘tactical horizon’, it will relieve the executive controller of the workload associated with analysing the conflict.

The route clearance takes the form of “CLEARED TO <abc> VIA <xyz>”, where <xyz> is a geographical point that is inserted in the aircraft’s route, and <abc> is a point where the aircraft will rejoin its original route. The benefits of such a clearance over an assigned heading are many:

  • The controller does not have to issue a further instruction for the aircraft to resume own navigation
  • When used for separation, the separation achieved is far less dependent on when the aircraft starts the manoeuvre
  • The ground track of the aircraft is not influenced by changing wind
  • Predictability is improved for both the controllers and aircrew.

Eurocontrol performed the real-time simulation to validate the study findings in partnership with the Air Navigation Services of the Czech Republic (ANS-CR) and Thales. The goal was to address the acceptability of the adapted working method by the controllers, as well as to assess issues such as the teamwork of the planner and executive controllers, their shared situational awareness, and additional system requirements to assist the controller in deciding the resolution clearances.

The simulation took place in Prague over four days, followed by an open day for visitors. Ten controllers from ANS-CR took part, working as executive and planner controllers in two sectors and a feed sector. This allowed the team to explore planner and executive controller teamwork within a sector as well as inter-sectoral aspects.

As a next step, Eurocontrol plans to increase awareness of this solution among airspace users and develop cockpit guidelines with aid for pilots, so that implementation of the “CLEARED TO… VIA…” clearance by ATC can take advantage of the increasing number of datalink-equipped aircraft.