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New technologies promise to improve air traffic management

17th November 2017

By: Keith Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Air traffic control/air traffic management (ATC/ATM) agencies need to embrace new technologies in order to further improve air safety. This was stressed by Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (Canso) director-general Jeff Poole at the recent Canso Global ATM Safety Conference 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Canso is the global representative body for the ATM sector; Canso members support more than 85% of global air traffic.)

“Safety is our number one priority and we are rightly proud of the safety record in air traffic management,” highlighted Poole. “However, we must ensure that we do not become over-averse to risk and develop a mindset that only sees potential safety problems with every new technological advance. Conversely, we need to be proactively seeking out any and all new advances that have the potential to improve safety as well as efficiency.”

New technologies that are already affecting both aviation and ATM include increased automation, remote and digitised air traffic control towers, as well as space-based surveillance and tracking. ATM providers must both bring these new technologies safely into use and ensure that they further increase air safety.

“While we, rightly, spend a lot of time making sure we are safe today, we also need to ensure that we anticipate safety for tomorrow,” he affirmed. “The technologies which are entering the ATM world are an opportunity to improve safety and increase operational efficiency. Canso associate members, the organisations that provide products, solutions and services for the ATM industry, have an important role to play in this. They are already driving new solutions across Canso workgroups in both safety and operations. Their expertise and innovation, combined with the knowledge and expertise of Canso full members, the organisations that provide air navigation services, are creating a powerful force for transforming ATM performance globally.”

One of the new technologies is Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, better known as ADS-B. This technology uses satellites to allow the tracking of aircraft over oceans and remote areas where there is no, nor can be any, ground-based tracking infrastructure.

Remote and digital control towers also increase safety. With improved imaging, including infrared, they provide better observation in low visibility conditions. They decrease the workload of the air traffic controllers and simplify matters by displaying all relevant information (including flight information and weather) on a single screen. Decreasing the ATC workload increases safety.

Automation relieves air traffic controllers of routine, but important, tasks such as “conformance monitoring” – that is, making sure an aircraft is doing what it has been authorised to do. It will allow real time and predictive decision-making by ATC. It will also permit the reduction in the minimum safety distances between aircraft landing and taking off (‘safety minima’ in ATM terminology), while actually improving safety and monitoring capability.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be in aviation and ATM,” asserted Poole. “But, as the aviation industry makes the leap to the latest generation of new technology, it also needs to be aware of the growing cyberthreat to its systems, which have the potential to compromise safety if robust mechanisms are not put in place. The cyberthreat is exacerbated by the preponderance of old technology is use in developing regions such as Africa, which represents a significant challenge in terms of cybersecurity. To help tackle this cyberproblem in air traffic management, Canso has not only produced some excellent guidance material but is also working closely with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and industry partners on a closed network, inaccessible to the public, for aviation data and systemwide information management.”

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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