Analysis of the latest efforts by Eurocontrol to address improvements in air traffic management performance being sought by European Business Aviation Association leadership.
At the 2019 European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE), business aviation operators are assembling at the region’s largest reputation of their segment of air transportation following a month in which European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) leadership has been extremely critical of the region’s segmented air traffic system, which continues to see delays increase.
Speaking at the Aviation Day conference on April 12, 2019 in Bucharest, Romania, Attar Husain Khan, secretary general for EBAA, called for improvement upon Europe’s poor performance on air traffic delays.
“Despite record delays as well as industry calls for urgent EU airspace reform, European Union member states approved the weakest performance targets ever for Europe’s air traffic control providers by agreeing to extend the threshold for delays. These new targets will not incentivize the performance improvements the European airspace network desperately needs, nor will they support the delivery of the Single European Sky benefits,” said Khan.
Khan is referring to the noticeable increase in recorded flight delays for European business and commercial flights, which increased to 19 million minutes in 2018, up 105 percent compared to the previous year, according to a joint report published on March 1, 2019 by Eurocontrol and FAA comparing U.S. and European air traffic delays. The report also showed that despite the U.S. handling 5 million more flights than Europe in 2017, Europe had 100,000 more minutes of total delays than the U.S. during the same year.
On April 9, 2019, Eurocontrol separately published its own “Future Airspace Architecture” report, a 159-page study that proposes a progressive transition strategy towards the Single European Airspace System in three five-year periods between 2020 and 2035. The study was the result of a request from the European Parliament to evaluate the consistency in the objectives of the European air traffic management master plan and the SESAR project. One of the main goals outlined in the future airspace study is to address the types of delays that Khan referred to in his speech.
Network Centric ATM
Eurocontrol’s report proposes establishing a data services oriented air traffic system in Europe using advancements in communications, navigation and surveillance technologies onboard aircraft and how those systems interact with air traffic ground and space-based networks.
Overall, the goals outlined within the 2020-2025 time period are ambitious, as they call for an implementation of free route airspace operations and the creation of new air traffic management data service providers. The new data service providers are proposed as a way of making all flight operational data available to all airspace users across the entire European flight information region, instead of keeping the current structure where data is available based upon decision-making of the individual air navigation service providers in each European nation-state.
Furthermore, the individual air data service providers would provide flight data processing functions to include flight correlation, trajectory prediction, conflict detection and resolution, and arrival management planning. These services will be created by integrating services for weather, surveillance and aeronautical information which today is individually analyzed and controlled by ANSPs based on each individual European country rather than being made available to all users across the network.
Free route airspace is an air traffic management concept of operations that refers to a specific section of airspace where users freely plan a route between a defined entry and exit point. The use of the free route structure also includes the possibility of routing via intermediate way points without reference to the local air traffic services network based on airspace availability.
Eurocontrol already permits this type of operation in one area of Europe, the Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC), which allows user preferred trajectories in the dense and complex airspace over Belgium and northeast of Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands above 24,500 feet. Users in this airspace are currently permitted to fly under free route guidance from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. local time. By the first half of 2020, that will be expanded to all times throughout the week.
“In the proposed target architecture vision, aircraft and [instrument flight rules remotely piloted aircraft systems] IFR RPAS will progressively be integrated across the whole ECAC region and will no longer be constrained by fixed routes. The airspace organization combined with the operational and technology layer will enable the aircrafts to fly in a free route environment allowing them to optimize their flight trajectories irrespective of [flight information regions] FIRs or states boundaries,” the report says.
By creating a network-centric, shared data services throughout Europe, the region’s future air traffic system would address the main source of delays: departures. The joint report on a comparison of air traffic delays by Eurocontrol and the FAA published March 1, 2019 analyzed delay data collected from airlines, business aviation operators included, between 2002 and 2017 across the top 34 busiest airports in each region.
Their analysis found that flights are three times as likely to be delayed at the gate before departure due to constraints with en-route airspace in Europe than they’re in the U.S. Additionally, the report found that deterioration within the European air traffic system performance is primarily caused by a limited number of en-route facilities combined with an increase in additional taxi time from a greater number of flights.
Internet Protocol Suite
As previously mentioned, Eurocontrol’s future airspace architecture report proposes what needs to occur technologically and conceptually for Europe’s air traffic system to improve between 2020 and 2035. Under this structure the report proposes changes incrementally throughout the mid to late 2020s that will also help improve departure and en route airspace delays over the next 15 years.
There is a strong call for the deployment of the Internet Protocol Suite (IPS) multi-link environment where aircraft can effectively use the best available link for communications with air traffic controllers, instead of solely being reliant upon very high frequency voice communications. Eurocontrol’s specific reference to IPS is important within the report’s overall scope, as it is the first time the agency is publicly embracing that specific framework as the future aircraft data communications infrastructure that it wants to establish throughout European airspace.
“A datalink with high capacity and fast and reliable response times is required to enable sophisticated interactions between controllers and pilots for time- and safety-critical separation purposes, including the need for a strong internet protocol backbone to support connectivity,” Eurocontrol’s “Future Airspace Architecture” report says.
IPS is a future communications infrastructure that uses cellular and satellite communications networks to carry the bulk of the data communicated between aircraft and air traffic controllers, airline operations centers and manufacturers of aircraft engines, systems and components. It is based on the use of internet protocol-based commercial products to support air-to-ground aeronautical safety services communications.
Whereas right now, the primary communication link used by business and commercial aircraft operators is the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), IPS will use multiple line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight subnetworks that operate in protected spectrum allocated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for safety services. These will include Inmarsat Swiftbroadband, Iridium Certus and L-band Digital Aeronautical Communication System (LDACS) systems.
Some of these links are already being flight tested and further developed for pilot to controller safety communications. Engineers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for example are evaluating the results of a recent flight test campaign using L-band spectrum. The tests used a Dassault Falcon 20 modified with a functional LDACS receiver to see how LDACS can serve two main purposes in the future. First an alternative link that pilots and controllers can use to digitally exchange much of the same information they communicate today verbally. Secondly, it can serve as an alternative positioning, navigation and timing signal for correcting aircraft navigation accuracy when global navigation satellite system links such as Galileo or EGNOS are interrupted or unavailable.
“The long-term LDACS goal is to become an international standard with as many states as possible adopting LDACS for ATS/AOC services. LDACS is part of the so-called Future Communications Infrastructure (FCI) which comprises besides LDACS, satcom and AeroMACS. These three link technologies complement each other and are required to enable modern ATM concepts all over the world to make aviation traffic flow efficiently and smooth,” said Michael Schnell, group leader for DLR’s institute of communications and navigation.
Schnell said that DLR’s research and development into the development of a new LDACS receiver foresees the exchange the distance measuring equipment (DME) box onboard an aircraft with a combined LDACS/DME box. DLR’s pilots and engineers want to use the data collected from their flight test campaign to show the ability of the L-band spectrum to provide faster data transmission speeds and navigation accuracy for digital transmissions exchanged between the Falcon 20’s LDACS receiver and ground stations.
The flight test being conducted by DLR is an important first step toward deploying one of the links that will become Europe’s future IPS aircraft data communications framework. The Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) already concluded in a 2016 study that the VDL Mode 2 over a single frequency has already reached its capacity limits and the development of next generation datalink technology is going to be necessary to manage projected air traffic growth in Europe.
Transitioning to the type of multi-link environment envisioned by Eurocontrol in its new future airspace architecture study will contribute to the type of improvement in performance by ANSPs expressed by EBAA through public speeches and statement published throughout April 2019.
“Business aviation is not just a time machine. New technologies such as electrification, VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing), blockchain, artificial intelligence, and alternative fuels are igniting the pace of innovation in aviation. And nowhere is it more prevalent than business aviation – the industry that sets the bar for air travel,” EBAA’s Khan said during his speech at Romania’s Aviation Day conference.
“These much-needed improvements and technological advances will only be made possible if the EU is able to provide the adequate infrastructure for business aviation operators in Europe. In particular, access to airports and airspace which remain major hurdles for our sector,” said Khan.