Airspace Q2 2018: A brave new world

30 May 2018

Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (AEROTHAI) is undergoing the most important transition in its history to cope with a demand that is surpassing all expectations.

According to air traffic forecasts, within the next two decades Asia Pacific will become the largest aviation market in the world. Of the top 20 global traffic flows, 50% will be in the region.

Thailand is a key driver in this air traffic boom and is predicted to grow to be among the world's top ten national aviation markets. In fact, the country's air traffic is growing so quickly that it regularly surpasses even the most speculative forecast.

To better understand the dynamics, AEROTHAI is in the midst of an airspace study – being done in conjunction with NATS and due to be completed later in 2018 – looking at the design and procedures that will enable the ANSP to handle up to three million aircraft movements by 2035. This is a tripling of current traffic levels.

Sarinee Angsusingha, AEROTHAI's President, says there has been a focus on increasing capacity and the ability to handle that increase. "We are able to benefit from improvements in airspace management, such as establishing new uni-directional routes to facilitate better flow of traffic for our major city-pairs, which also eases the complexity for our controllers. In fact, the Thai Cabinet has just approved the drafting of our new national airspace policy in March, which will further facilitate the implementation of flexible use of airspace concept in Thailand. We are confident that we will be able to handle one million flights safely in 2018 and we plan to be well prepared for the future beyond that."

Multiple layers

"Well prepared" may be an understatement given the size and scope of AEROTHAI projects.

The Thailand Modernization of CNS/ATM System (TMCS) can rightly be described as a massive undertaking, covering upgrades for all air traffic control (ATC) units in Thailand. "We are a country with many control centres and airports that are inter-connected, so we believed it would be in our best interest to upgrade the whole country within one project to ensure seamless connectivity and efficient operations," says Angsusingha.

The main features of the new system include multi-surveillance sensor processing, greater automation and digital communication/coordination, more safety net tools and multiple layers of redundancy.

Suvarnabhumi – Bangkok's and Thailand's main gateway – will benefit from an ATM system upgrade for both tower and approach, along with arrival and departure management tools. Angsusingha expects this to improve the safety and efficiency performance of the ANSP's service. A shadow operation of TMCS has already been successfully conducted at Suvarnbhumi Airport.

The improvements will be integrated into Bangkok's two-airport environment (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang) and will also cope when this moves to a three-airport environment in the near future with the growth of U-Tapao airport.

Outside of Bangkok, the TMCS project covers new ATM systems for all regional approaches and towers as well. In total, six regional approach centres and 38 towers, including four military towers, will be upgraded.

"We will benefit from the enhancement to surveillance coverage with data feed from new secondary surveillance radars," says Angsusingha. "We will introduce arrival management tools at a few major regional airports as well. In addition to that, we are working to interface with the airport information management system at four major regional airports. All in all, there will be major improvements for our regional units."

Smooth transition

Air traffic flow management (ATFM) is another key development in AEROTHAI. Angsusingha notes that with the ever-growing traffic demand, ATFM has become one of the most important tools in AEROTHAI's armoury to help manage its airspace and airports.

"While we are working hard to enhance our capacity to cope with foreseeable growth, the process will take time before we can reap the benefit," she says. "ATFM, as a tool to balance demand against existing capacity, will thus be an important part of our air navigation service provision. We expect to use ATFM to help cope with the growing demand, manage adverse situations with reduced capacity, and assist the smooth transition to our new ATM system."

ATFM will also be critical to enhanced capacity, resilience and safety at the regional level. Major flows of traffic in the region include traffic to/from East Asia, Middle East, and Europe.

"The concept of ATFM in Asia Pacific is cross-border by nature," says Angsusingha. "Recognising this, Asia Pacific States have come together to develop a framework and implementation roadmap for cross-border ATFM. The concept being explored is focused on building a distributed ATFM network based on system-wide information management (SWIM)."

Regional network

Another crucial project that will facilitate closer cooperation at the regional level is the Common Regional Virtual Private Network (CRV).

The CRV project will create a region-wide communication network based on digital connectivity. Its implementation will create the fundamental infrastructure necessary for the future development of all aspects of ATM.

"Of course, the immediate benefit of CRV will be cost effectiveness and scalability," explains Angsusingha. "The communication cost will be lower, while the network will be able to handle more traffic and different types of applications. These benefits have already been proven by similar communication networks in other regions. In addition to that, a key future benefit will be using SWIM to advance future communication and information exchange."

Elusive skies

Angsusingha warns that these developments are no guarantee of regional success. "It cannot be denied that Asia Pacific is the region with the highest diversity – and the highest number of related challenges – in terms of national interests and investment capabilities," she says.

Nevertheless, she is confident that the elusive seamless Asian sky is on the horizon.
Close collaboration and coordination to harmonise the implementation of technologies and procedures is providing the perfect platform.

Additionally, there is the Asia Pacific Seamless ATM Plan, developed by the ICAO Asia Pacific Air Navigation Planning and Implementation Regional Group (APANPIRG), which prioritises the necessary steps. Moreover, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sub-regional level, there is the ASEAN ATM Master Plan. This establishes the sub-regional implementation guidelines for ASEAN Member States and is similarly aimed at progressive development towards seamless ATM services.

AERORTHAI is host of the CANSO Global ATM Summit and 22nd AGM and CANSO Asia Pacific Conference 2018.

 

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