EU-Funded SlotMachine to Use Blockchain Technology for Cost Efficiency

With passenger numbers expected to gradually rise again, the aviation industry will be confronted with growing air traffic and limited capacity at airports and in the air. This may lead to an increase in delays again where airlines need to prioritise their important flights.

At the same time, airlines are struggling with increased cost pressures while the highest safety standards continue to demand compliance with complex processes. The EU-funded project SlotMachine aims to develop a cost-efficient solution, enabled by blockchain technology, which will extend the existing slot-swapping capabilities between different airlines.

Together with EUROCONTROL, the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), The University of Linz in Austria (JKU), and Swiss International Airlines (LX), Frequentis aims to foster the emergence of a new kind of marketplace for airlines exchanging slot priorities in air traffic management (ATM). The platform to be developed by the SlotMachine consortium is expected to enable a more flexible, faster, scalable and (semi-) automated processing of slot sequence transactions in a fair and trustworthy way. Built with a privacy-first approach, the aim will be to protect sensitive airline data from competitors and airport operators and therefore fully unleash the potential of slot swapping.

The project will focus on user-driven optimisation in the allocation of air traffic flow management (ATFM) slots to flights. ATFM slots are allocated times of departure, which are issued by EUROCONTROL’s network manager to regulate traffic in congested areas of airspace. Until now, simple exchanges between two flights from the same airline have been possible. These are a helpful way for airlines to prioritise expensive flights in order to minimise delays and keep costs down.

Slot swapping between different airlines is currently restricted to two flights. The flight cost structures, which may vary for any number of reasons from the provisioning of connecting flights for passengers to work-time restrictions for crew members, is confidential information for the airlines. This is where the SlotMachine project comes in. The objective is to optimise the allocation of flights according to the airline priorities based on the cost structure of the different airlines. By using blockchain technology and secure multi-party computation, the project aims to extend the existing user-driven prioritisation process (UDPP) solution currently in development in SESAR 2020 to allow more flexible prioritisation with no need for the disclosure of any confidential information.

This technology allows secure, auditable transactions without the need for a central broker, whereby stakeholders are able to enter transactions without disclosing information to other users. By demonstrating the feasibility of a privacy-preserving platform, the foundation can be laid for the development of a product that will be an essential element in the aviation industry in the future. It is also expected to lead to better use of existing resources at airports, higher efficiency of airlines, lower emissions and shorter delays for passengers.

To ensure the validity of the results, the project will have a demonstrator in two or three iterations throughout the project duration and hold an external advisory board to review requirements and design decisions. Representatives from airlines, airports, or ANSPs and other interested stakeholders who want to review and validate the outcomes of this project can still join the advisory board and participate in the upcoming workshops (with the first due to take place at the end of April).

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