Future Airport: What difference will SESAR make to European air traffic management (ATM)?

Daniel Calleja: The future of ATM is SESAR. This is going to be an essential and vital evolution for the entire air transport and aviation sectors. The change process will be significant, but gradual on procedures and technologies. The difference to the current state of operations in ATM, which SESAR has the ambition and the means to change, is on several layers.

ATM is currently operated with ageing technologies that do not have the capabilities offered by, for example, satellite communications. The workload of air traffic controllers is high and their ability to process the huge amount of information as well as assist the aircraft in their respective sectors is limited.

“By January 2010, 1,200 experts were working on SESAR across Europe on 126 projects.”

The new procedures and technologies based on SESAR’s system of operations will introduce key elements such as 4D aircraft trajectories and system-wide information system, which will allow all stakeholders access to real-time data, while the automation of tasks will relieve the controller’s workload and, in the long term, allow automatic separation. This, in turn, means that only the people that need
the information will receive it, therefore bypassing the controller.

Until the SESAR programme, various stakeholders had different R&D agendas and different investment strategies. SESAR, through the buy-in of all the stakeholders, is a step towards the full coordination and convergence of European R&D and innovation activities. The ATM Master Plan, which was endorsed by the

Decision of 30 March 2009, sets the common priorities for Europe and is an agreed roadmap for the implementation of the results of the development phase.

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How far has the SESAR project progressed?

The SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) signed membership agreements with its 15 industrial members in June 2009, and the technical work started immediately. The SESAR Programme is based on the innovative public-private partnership where the international organisations and the industry bring in the necessary funding and technical expertise. By January 2010, 1,200 experts were working on SESAR across Europe on 126 projects. The entire development phase will eventually include almost 300 projects. On behalf of the Commission the SJU also manages new initiatives such as AIRE, the transatlantic programme including flight trials for continuous climb and continuous descent approaches aiming at delivering environmental benefits such as fuel and noise reductions. Results from the first trials suggest that considerable time, fuel and emissions savings can be reached through better use of today’s technologies. This is where SESAR, the environment, airlines and citizens can benefit. Another important project is the OPTIMI initiative for better position tracking and monitoring in oceanic and remote low-density airspace. The SJU was asked to analyse the issue and make recommendations to improve the current situation after the tragic loss of the Air France flight 446 that occurred in June 2009 over the south Atlantic.

What are the next steps in the implementation of SESAR?

“Implementation Packages II and III will come gradually as of 2011 and will consist of more advanced functionalities and concepts of the SESAR system. “

The SESAR Programme is composed of three implementation packages, depending on the level of maturity of different functionalities. Implementation Package I consists of functionalities, which do not need any further R&D activities and can be implemented by the stakeholders. In December 2009, the Single Sky Committee, assisting the EC on the regulatory process for implementing the Single Sky legislation, gave a
positive opinion on the first set of the Implementing Rules and Community Specifications to be developed.

Implementation Packages II and III will come gradually as of 2011 and will consist of more advanced functionalities and concepts of the SESAR system. In 2010, the SJU will present an update of the European ATM Master Plan, including information about the business cases. By the end of 2010, the EC will issue a communication to the European Parliament and the Council, including possible scenarios for governance of
the deployment phase of the SESAR Programme and innovative funding mechanisms.

Are we on course with the original schedule? If not, what has caused the hold-up and why?

The SJU activities are fully on schedule with the development activities in the Programme. It should be stressed that the SESAR Programme is very complex, being composed of almost 300 R&D projects and includes many stakeholders whose buy-in is necessary for the future deployment of SESAR systems and technologies. Regarding Implementation Package I, progress is not as fast as was intended. One reason for this
is the difficult economic situation. Another reason is that implementation requires coordination among the industry stakeholders, which is currently being discussed with the EC and Member States.

What are the biggest challenges left to overcome in order to bring about the paradigm shift needed in Europe’s ATC? The biggest challenge has already been overcome by bringing together all aviation players to work on one common programme. Working together is also a challenge and the SJU needs to overcome existing
fragmentation. The second challenge will be to develop tools and procedures with a positive business case for all actors. The last challenge is to ensure that the professional staff remains fully engaged in SESAR so that the transition between current and future systems is as progressive as possible.

How hard is it to manage the input and engagement of all relevant parties involved in SESAR? Working together is always a challenge, but the SJU partnership approach is not anymore to be demonstrated. While cooperation between the 15 industrial members and Eurocontrol has been effective, there are also working
arrangements with airspace users, staff and professional associations, regulatory authorities and the scientific committee for the long R&D vision. All relevant parties are gathered in the SJU’s Administrative Board translating the requirements of the public-private partnership into strategic decisions at the programme level.

Is the current pressure on the aviation industry due to economic circumstances affecting the approach being taken for the implementation of SESAR? If so, how?

The consultation and coordination process for Implementation Package I functionalities and investments are ongoing with all relevant stakeholders to identify possible problems. The resources for the development phase of the SESAR Programme are secured by the Regulation until 2016.

Is the rapid development of technology changing the parameters of SESAR? If so, in which areas are the most significant technological advances being made?

Technological development does not change the basic parameters of SESAR, but it may influence business decisions. For example, in the field of communications the rapid development of technology can have a huge economic effect on the choices made by SESAR on specific solutions.