Airspace Q1 2018: Bringing every destination closer

22 February 2018

Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of the ICAO Council, explains why air traffic flow management is a key priority for the aviation value chain

The implementation of air traffic flow management (ATFM) is one of the priorities under the ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP) and requires a determined collective effort.

To help improve awareness and openness to its benefits and needs, ICAO gathered more than 260 experts in Singapore last November for our very first Global ATFM Symposium, hosted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and with important support and contributions from Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), International Air Transport Association (IATA), EUROCONTROL and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

A key takeaway for ICAO from this event was that ATFM is no longer of interest to air navigation service providers exclusively. Very clearly it has now also become a key priority for airport operators, airlines and airspace users, and for State regulators as well.
This variety of participants reflects the growing understanding that air traffic flows can only be managed transparently and cooperatively. And while the event focused on many challenges specific to the ICAO Asia and Pacific (APAC) region, its outcomes and conclusions were largely valid at the global level as well.

A key point here though is that talking about the need for ATFM collaboration is one thing – but putting that talk into practice can be very complex and challenging. Addressing those complexities was what our Global ATFM Symposium was specifically designed to kick start.

There are a variety of ATFM projects now ongoing globally, but in virtually every instance States need to be exchanging and collaborating much more to make ATFM a truly operational reality.

Our symposium last year underscored the urgency of these needs, and we sought to inspire its participants to return home with a wealth of new ideas regarding their local solutions.

To truly work together and be efficient, a key first step at this stage is to resolve a common ATFM data format so that States can talk to each other and share related advice with the dependability and frequency that will be necessary.
At the same time, common procedures are needed between States to avoid situations where a flight or a given traffic flow could be subject to conflicting ATFM demands.

All of this is virgin territory in terms of procedures and information sharing, but what is very clear is that the solutions required must be arrived at through consensus and in a manner which challenges some of our more traditional understandings of sovereignty in the civil aviation context.

As a specialized agency of the United Nations, ICAO could not be better placed to guide that transition.

Looking ahead, we also have to accommodate the need for continuous innovation and consider that what we contemplate in terms of ATFM requirements today will likely change dramatically as new unmanned or other high altitude air transport operations begin to come online.

There are also related concerns regarding cybersecurity and cybersafety, which present a challenging and evolving threat and risk context for us to deal with.

Ultimately, future air traffic management systems need to safely and efficiently accommodate more aircraft, reduce delays, and provide the predictability that airspace users need to organize their operations. The simple truth is that it is impossible to meet those expectations without a practical and reliable flow management capability.


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