Europe’s business aviation sector is on the cusp of momentous change that could see operators’ access to small and regional airports increase through the combined use of satellite-based navigation and synthetic and enhanced vision technology.
Demonstration flights have been carried out and the required avionics technologies are reaching maturity. What the industry is calling for now is the necessary regulatory framework to be put in place to enable operators to reap the benefits Europe-wide, as soon as possible.
Small and regional airports account for about two-thirds of business aviation operations in Europe, but many of those facilities close down when visibility is low. When this happens, business jets are often diverted to larger, capacity-constrained airports. Many of these diversions could be avoided if aircraft were equipped with synthetic vision guidance systems (SVGS) and enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) avionics solutions.
Little wonder, then, that the business aviation sector seized on these two solutions when they were tested under the European Union’s recently concluded Augmented Approaches to Land (AAL) demonstration project.
AAL was co-funded by the SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) Joint Undertaking and led by NetJets Europe. Over a two-year period, more than 100 trial flights were conducted to demonstrate how a combination of satellite-based navigation and augmented vision technologies could open up access to smaller airports for which the installation of instrument landing system (ILS) equipment is considered too expensive.
SVGS and EFVS “are promising solutions to enhance accessibility at regional airports not equipped with advanced landing aids,” says NetJets Europe’s SESAR project manager, Jean-Philippe Ramu.
“For instance, Dassault Aviation showed through a weather study that, in about 85% of the situations when access to those airports is jeopardized by bad weather, an EFVS-to-land concept with runway visual range down to 300 meters would retain access.”
Honeywell Aerospace and Dassault Aviation worked in AAL to flight test the SVGS and EFVS avionics using experimental Dassault Falcon F900EX and FX7 aircraft, respectively. Ramu says the solutions are “in their last stage of development and will soon be available on the latest aircraft offers.
“Avionics are evolving, and the project provided several inputs to standards and regulations to enable preparation of the framework that will make best use of those technologies,” he adds.
Most of the technologies demonstrated under the AAL project, which concluded in December, are now considered mature and ready for implementation once that regulatory framework is in place. In addition to SVGS and EFVS technologies, advanced approach procedures using ground-based augmentation systems, satellite-based augmentation systems and curved required navigation performance legs were tested.
The question among business jet operators is how quickly standards can be developed to enable the rollout of these various technologies across EU member states.
The answer will very much depend on individual states, although David Bowen, SESAR air traffic management chief, suggests that the European Commission “could decide regulation is needed to stimulate the rollout.
“The next step is the design and approval of procedures, but that goes beyond the SESAR project,” he adds.
However, for aircraft to be equipped with SVGS and EFVS technologies, Ramu notes that mandates will not be necessary.
“Once these technologies are on the market, and it is coming quickly, each operator will assess the benefit to their network,” he says. “What is necessary, however, is that the regulatory framework is there to enable those benefits.”
As it stands, there are no specific targets for business aviation operators to work toward in terms of putting what was demonstrated under AAL into practice, and there is still a considerable amount of work to do on drafting a coherent set of standards for EU-wide implementation.
“Further inputs are needed to support the best use of this equipment, hopefully through additional demonstration projects,” says Ramu.
“There is no target for business aviation operators in particular — just the confidence that we are committed to working together with aviation stakeholders in order to make best use of the available equipment.”
The AAL project recently won the 2017 Single European Sky Award for innovation and technology. Synthetic and enhanced vision systems also were praised by European Commission’s director general for Mobility and Transport, Henrik Hololei. At a ceremony in Madrid March 7, Hololei said such systems “will play an important role in future commercial air transport operations,” noting that the AAL project “is blazing a trail in the innovative application of this technology to complement highly precise operations in marginal landing conditions.”
The AAL demonstration project formed just part of the wide-ranging SESAR program, which is now in its second phase. SESAR 2020 launched Nov. 1, 2016, and will run through 2020, during which time it aims to demonstrate the viability of the technological and operational solutions developed under the first phase of the program, which spanned 2008 to 2016.
Much like the FAA’s NextGen project, its aim is to standardize and modernize the air traffic management system to make it more efficient and better able to cope with the expected rapid growth of the aviation industry.
In Europe, performance-based navigation making best use of satellite navigation is “scheduled to be rolled out shortly after 2020,” says Ramu. With regard to SVGS and EFVS, he says that “certified avionics should be available before 2020, and the aim is to have regulations supporting such operations as soon as possible.”
When it comes to avionics equipage mandates, SESAR’s Bowen says the research project is “looking at a more flexible approach” to take into account the requirements of individual operators.
“The question is not what piece of equipment do I need, but what do I need to do and what piece of equipment would allow me to do that?” he says. Business aviation and rotorcraft operators “already have significant equipage in enhanced vision systems,” which is why the sector is “pushing on” the wider deployment of European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS)-based technologies.
In a September 2016 position paper, the European Business Aviation Assn (EBAA). argued that the implementation of EGNOS technologies is a “vital tool and one that is already available to improve access and safety to all airports and heliports by providing precision approach capabilities in all weather, without the need for ILS or other ground-based aids.”
EGNOS-based localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) approaches “guarantee similar performances to ILS Cat I 200-ft Decision Altitude approaches, but do so without the costly ground infrastructure necessary for the implementation of the latter,” says the EBAA, adding that “now is the right time to act as equipment costs are low.”
In addition, thanks to a new rule adopted last summer, the pilot-training approval process for business aviation operators that have already equipped their aircraft with satellite receivers is much simpler than it used to be.
“Before, you had to declare to each individual state that your pilots had SBAS training, but now you don’t have to do that,” says Vanessa Rullier, senior manager of European affairs at EBAA. Rullier also notes that, because SBAS training is now included in standard training procedures, these individual declarations are no longer necessary.
Rullier adds that the business aviation community “is in favor of all satellite-based systems being further deployed to benefit from better precision approaches.”
Rullier stresses the importance to the business aviation sector of combining the use of SBAS with SVGS and EFVS to give better visibility to pilots. “This was the beauty of this portion of the AAL project,” she says.
One of the next SESAR programs of interest to business aviation, says Bowen, focuses on global information exchange between stakeholders. The System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) framework enables aviation stakeholders to share digital information, including flight planning, weather updates and traffic flow data.
Bowen says the ability of business aviation “to provide and consume information from that system will increase as we go forward,” and the sector “can be a much more integrated partner in the network.” The SESAR is taking steps to deploy what it calls iSWIM (initial SWIM) across Europe by 2025.
Another factor that could open up smaller airports for business aviation is the use of remote air traffic control towers. For airports with a low-volume traffic, manning the control tower round the clock does not always make financial sense. Through the use of state-of-the-art cameras, the view from the tower can be accurately delivered in real time to a remote facility. “We’ve had successful demonstrations of this in the first [SESAR] program and we’re already seeing implementation in Sweden, Norway and Ireland,” says Bowen.
In February, the Irish Aviation Authority said it had completed successful operational trials on remote tower technology over the preceding year. The trials involved more than 50 demonstrations of remote facilities at Shannon and Cork managed by a Dublin control center. The Irish authority said the trials built upon the experience of single remote tower operations and validated the capability for one-controller operation of multiple remote towers.
“Following these trials, we firmly believe that tower services at multiple airports can be safely provided by a single air traffic controller remotely,” says the IAA’s director of Air Traffic Management Operations and Strategy, Peter Kearney. “This would be subject, of course, to successful completion of safety assessments, regulatory approval and appropriate stakeholder consultation.”
The introduction of higher flight levels is also being examined under SESAR. “Business aviation operators are interested in free routing to allow for more direct, shorter routes,” says Bowen.
The landscape is changing for European business aviation operators, and new technology appears to be changing it for the better. As satellite-based navigation becomes more widely deployed and as more LPV approaches are made available across the continent, the business aviation operating environment “will change for the positive,” says Rullier, and “access to small airports will be easier.”
However, the extent to which the regulatory framework is able to keep pace with these technological advances remains to be seen. AVS