Airspace Q1 2018: Mind over matter

22 February 2018

Mervyn Harris, Nokia's Director, Air Traffic Management, Transportation and Sales believes the key to improving ATM communications is an Internet Protocol (IP) environment. This open architecture ensures greater flexibility for upgrades and connectivity as well as greater resilience.

"ANSPs are burdened with legacy systems," he says. "But there are products that can unburden them, without the need for a dramatic switchover. It is possible to interface with legacy systems before gradually introducing an IP environment. It does not have to be an all or nothing approach."

There are many advantages to this tactic, including savings in time, training and money. But, says Harris, it is a starting point only and the drive to a modern architecture is vital. "Any new solution will work better in an IP environment as that is the environment for which they are designed," he informs.

Many new applications – from automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) to system-wide information management (SWIM) – thrive in an IP environment. Harris says ANSPs must therefore make the switch away from proprietary legacy systems if they are to keep pace with the demands being placed on the industry.

He argues that these new technologies are essential for a number of reasons, beginning with safety and moving through to greater efficiency and extra capacity.

Securing funding

One challenge is prising the necessary funding from governments' fingers. In fact, getting money for new technologies is becoming harder as governments juggle with a plethora of competing requests.

Part of the solution, Harris suggests, may be new ANSP business models. "Commercial or corporatised ANSPs seem to be strong organisations and are generally deploying the latest technologies," he says. "But moving to that stage requires a complete mind-set change for governments and their ANSPs and that is never easy," he says. "In fact, it is probably the most difficult task facing the industry."

Outsourcing is a case in point. Many ANSPs are still sceptical about the concept even though they often step beyond the boundary of their core focus – the safe separation of aircraft. Upgrading and implementing the technical infrastructure, says Harris, is one part of the business that could be handed over to partners with the relevant expertise. ANSPs do not have to be hardware engineers or software designers.

The move to new communication infrastructure also needs timely regulation to ensure that implementation is not slowed down, especially regarding cyber protection, resilience and contingency planning. "There are plenty of guidelines, but I think that there is a case for something more specific," says Harris. "The industry might benefit from something more precise that commits it to deliver communication in an even safer, more resilient manner. Safety is always the top priority and good communication is one of the foundations of safety. It is an enabler to handle more traffic while also improving safety."

Harris points out that CANSO – the global voice of air traffic management – could play an important role in this regard by lobbying and collaborating with ICAO on a positive path for the industry to follow. CANSO is part of the ICAO Aviation Security Panel, the ICAO INNOVA project (working on cyber issues in system-wide information management) and the ICAO Secretarial Study Group on cybersecurity. This holistic approach to the problem is coordinated via the CANSO ATM Security Workgroup.

"Communication technology is vital," Harris concludes. "If it takes stronger regulation to make the latest solutions available globally, it should be considered."

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