On 25th May 2019, the UK had the busiest day of air traffic on record, managing around 9,000 flights. The May bank holiday weekend, Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix all contributed to the crowded airspace and the week got even busier with the Europa League Final in Baku on 29 May, and the Champions League final in Spain on 1 June.
With English teams Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool playing in Madrid, NATS, which provides air-traffic navigation services in the UK and in European and international airports, estimated an extra 800 flights would be required over the weekend.
According to Deloitte aviation technology director Martin Bowman, this is exactly the type of scenario where McLaren and Deloitte’s Performance Optimiser air traffic control (ATC) tool can support and improve ATC operations.
“Our ATC tool, Performance Optimiser, which we have developed in partnership with NATS, would allow ATC providers to prepare for ad hoc events in which higher passenger numbers are travelling through airspace,” says Bowman, who is also aviation lead in the McLaren and Deloitte alliance.
Optimising airspace to meet with demand
The Performance Optimiser is the first product to result from the collaboration. A cloud-based tool, it allows ATCs to analyse the impact of a decision and to simulate the results from an alternative decision.
“The Champions League final in Spain contributed further traffic to what was already predicted to be one of the busiest days ever,” Bowman adds. “By simulating demand via Performance Optimiser, air traffic controllers and airports would be able to view how the airspace could be managed in the most efficient way to cater for the surge in demand.”
Around 25% of European air traffic is managed by NATS and in 2017 there were a record 10.6 million flights in Europe. Airports Council International (ACI) revealed that passenger traffic has increased by almost 30% over the last five years and by 2040 this is predicted to increase by 84% to 19.5 million flights.
According to a SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) study – which proposes the concept of a simplified Single European Airspace System (SEAS) – the increase in air traffic will create “a major challenge for the ATM [Air Traffic Management] industry, which will have to adapt and handle growing traffic safely, efficiently and at an economically acceptable cost.”
While NATS puts measures in place to optimise the airspace, capacity is constrained and in busy periods this already leads to traffic flow problems and delays.
Less capacity means greater economic costs
Not managing future demand will be an expensive problem as these costs inhibit industry growth. A study from the Delft University of Technology estimated the annual European delay costs between €6.6bn and €11.5bn. They also affect wider economic activity across Europe; if a predicted 160 million passengers are unable to fly due to lack of capacity in 2040, the hit to the economy in this continent could be €88 billion.
“It is not just UK airspace that is busy; the rest of Europe is too,” says NATS operations director Juliet Kennedy. “That is why we, and the industry, along with government, are looking to modernise airspace over the next few years, so we can reduce the environmental impact of flying and all be more confident that our holidays and business trips will not be affected by costly delays.”
One way NATS will be modernising airspace is through its collaboration with McLaren and Deloitte on the Performance Optimiser tool. The combination of the organisation’s expertise at managing complex airspace, Deloitte’s expertise in using data analytics, and McLaren’s proficiency at running millions of scenarios and strategic outcomes for every Formula 1 race has resulted in a system that facilitates tactics, performance reviews, and analysis and careful selection of future consequences.
Bowman says there are three main ways that it will impact air navigation service providers (ANSPs). “It will minimise the impact of delay and disruption; provide them with a better understanding of the areas of high demand across the airspace; and allow them to adjust staffing to allow them to allocate resources to the areas of high demand.”
He gives an example relating to bad weather. “Suppose that tomorrow is Monday and is forecast to be snowy,” he says. “Because of the shift patterns of the teams, the operations supervisor scheduled to work that day may not have managed a snowy Monday morning for several years. This tool would show how similar snow days have played out previously, allowing the user to assess the outcomes of different scenarios and reminding them of what strategies tend to work best, so they are best prepared for the day ahead.”
Up until now the collaboration has produced the Performance Optimiser and two additional products which create the aviation product suite. Combined, they have been designed to support the aviation ecosystem.
SupplyCycle is designed to help manufacturers with their production and inventory processes by building digital versions of their production lines. The Airport Operations Performance Predictor (AOPP) creates a digital twin of the skies using NATS-enhanced airspace management so that ANSPs can improve planning and performance, and airlines can optimise their decision-making.
Connected airport operations for suite success
“Our aviation product suite helps airports, air traffic controllers and airlines to understand and plan their daily operations in a tactical way and comprehend the implications for any decisions made,” says Bowman.
“For instance, if an airport in one region is subject to a reduction in capacity, they can have a better understanding of what impact this will have on air traffic, the airlines flying in and the passengers flying between airports. If more information is shared between providers, everyone will benefit from a clearer picture of what is happening in the environment and be able to plan accordingly.”
Bowman says that ultimately the products could provide a planning capability for the entire aviation network and allow airports and airlines to work together on pre-ops planning, as well as day-to-day operations.
“If something is subject to a delay in one part of the network, the rest of the network would be able to have a shared view of what the implications would be for everyone else,” he adds. “Our tools have the potential to benefit the whole network, and allow organisations to work together more effectively.”