Airspace Q2 2018: Finding common ground

30 May 2018

Kevin Shum, Director-General, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Chair, CANSO Asia Pacific, explores how to bring the region closer to seamless ATM through collaboration and innovation.

Passenger traffic in Asia Pacific averaged an increase of 7% per annum in the last decade. Forecasts project that this strong growth will continue over the next 20 years.

In trying to accommodate the growing traffic, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) in the region face several common challenges. Committed to maintaining safety and improving efficiency, the Asia Pacific ANSP community is working together to deliver our collective vision of seamless air traffic management (ATM) operations in the region.

Collaborate and Progress

The Asia Pacific region covers a vast expanse of airspace spanning 49 flight information regions (FIRs), managed by more than 30 ANSPs. The ANSPs in the region exhibit a broad range of capabilities. Some are very large, with thousands of controllers, while others are significantly smaller, and employ dozens of controllers.

Nonetheless, we all face a common set of challenges. Increasing air traffic threatens to congest air routes and airports. Air traffic management will become more complex as new markets and airports develop. There is also an urgent need to refresh legacy ATM systems to cope with the increasing traffic.

A very large share of the traffic in the region is international traffic. We will therefore need to work collaboratively to manage this increase in air traffic.

The ICAO Regional Air Navigation Plan commits the region to work towards seamless ATM operations. Safety and efficiency can only be maximised when we work together. Operating unilaterally in aviation is counterproductive.

There is already a high degree of collaboration across the region. Many useful bilateral and multilateral forums have been established for information sharing, collaboration and decision-making, such as through ICAO, CANSO and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Good progress has been made in advancing seamless ATM through multiple initiatives.

One good example is air traffic flow management (ATFM) using a distributed multi-nodal network. The concept is an important step for ANSPs in the region to collaboratively enhance demand-capacity balancing in Asia Pacific.

Initially pioneered by AEROTHAI, the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department and CAAS, 11 ANSPs and more than 36 airports have now joined the effort and work towards more seamless traffic flow across the region. A tiered approach was taken to cater to varying levels of readiness and participation. As a result, many ANSPs were able to come onboard early and witness the potential benefits. Better predictability for stakeholders through well-coordinated flow management will enhance operational efficiency and optimise capacity.

We will not be stopping there. Though multi-nodal benefits flights within the region, ATFM can also look at long-range flights to coordinate speed adjustments to aircraft during the en-route phase so as to minimise time spent in airborne holding on arrival and to better manage arrival times. Airways New Zealand, CAAS and NATS partnered to conduct preliminary trials on long-range ATFM in late 2017 and early 2018. These trials demonstrated the potential to redistribute airborne delays to the more fuel-efficient cruising phase.

Capacity building

Data sharing will be critical to strengthen the development of seamless ATM operations. Strong collaboration exists in implementing data sharing on automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) between Australia and Indonesia; Indonesia and Singapore; Singapore and Vietnam; India and Myanmar; and Singapore and the Philippines for Southeast Asia and the Bay of Bengal. This has resulted in significant benefits. For instance, ADS-B collaboration involving the Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation (VATM) and CAAS has resulted in aircraft separation on some airways in the South China Sea being reduced to 20 nautical miles (NM). This is a significant improvement in airspace capacity compared with the original separation of 50 to 80NM.

We will see greater collaboration going forward. In 2017, the 10 ASEAN aviation ministers adopted a new ASEAN ATM Master Plan, which will enhance safety, efficiency and capacity in the region and advance the Seamless ASEAN Sky (SAS). The five-year master plan is being implemented, and will cover areas to be harmonised, such as performance-based navigation (PBN) routes, ATFM, air traffic services interfacility data communications (AIDC), aeronautical information management (AIM), and common regional aeronautical virtual private network (CRV).

In 2012 CANSO established Asia Pacific safety and operations workgroups as important platforms for experts to network and collaborate on issues of priority to the region. For example, the safety workgroup is looking at issues such as safety culture, threat and error management, human factors and risk analysis tools while the operations workgroup is focused on en route PBN harmonisation and AIDC implementation in addition to ADS-B collaboration and the distributed multi-nodal ATFM.

However, there is much more that can be done. ATM is on the cusp of new paradigms and drives towards seamless ATM.

For instance, there are ongoing efforts to implement system wide information management (SWIM) and data sharing to reap benefits in safety and efficiency through greater automation of ATM data exchange, harmonised information, greater transparency and a reduction in the duplication of information management.

Performance benchmarking and metrics will drive evidence-based decision making. Modelling and simulation tools will predict future scenarios and empower planners to better meet the future needs. Space-based technologies such as space-based ADS-B and IT technologies such as digital tower applications will transform and even revolutionise our concept of operations. Already, we see that global surveillance and remote augmented service provision are becoming realities.

The ATM environment is demanding and fluid. Through collaboration, unique opportunities emerge for the ANSP community to move service provision to a higher level. What we require is the resolve to find common ground and work together and to innovate. In this way, we can all reap the many economic and social benefits of enabling opportunities through aviation.

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