While the last year has posed unprecedented challenges to the air traffic management (ATM) industry, the brief pause has presented operators with a unique opportunity to reflect, reset, and press on with innovation.

First and foremost, the industry needs to get planes back in the air. This much is obvious, but the real question lies in how ATM organisations can scale up and improve on existing technologies once it takes to the skies again.

Single European Sky ATM Research, or SESAR, remains the primary roadmap to achieving this.  At the same time, industry growth and recovery can only be achieved with focus and hard work, so preparedness for strong competition and the differentiation imperative must also be considered on the journey into the future.

As such, the focus must be not just on the short-term, of getting back to the skies as soon as possible. It must also look to the long-term to find technology pathways to increased safety, efficiency and, of course, sustainability.

With this in mind, there are three key areas ATM organisations must consider right now:

  • Cost reductions from increased efficiency
  • Enhanced safety & security
  • Embracing new technologies

Cost reductions from efficiencies

For those operators that have survived, the next two years will be critical and the need to drive down costs is acute. Throughout Europe, many ATM departments grew out of legacy government departments, making it difficult to capture savings through rationalising the workforce.

Savings must instead be found through improved technology and processes, with automation as a key driver as set out in the SESAR roadmap for innovation.

As indicated in a recent article from The Parliament Magazine, ‘The concepts and services being developed today within the framework of SESAR are establishing some of the key building blocks for the management of airspace and ensuring safety and efficiency at all times.’

Having a digital infrastructure that allows for the adoption of AI and machine learning, automation, speedy innovation, cloud computing, blockchain, smart working, and compliance is crucial to building a foundation for future efficiency – and VMware can provide this.

Enhanced Safety & Security

2020 inevitably had a huge and unprecedented impact on passenger behaviour, with fewer people able to travel for pleasure, and the introduction of remote working reducing the need for business travel. But as the travel industry rebuilds, passengers have one overriding concern: safety.

As Eurocontrol, a pan-European, civil-military organisation dedicated to supporting European aviation, acknowledged late last year, ‘while the immediate needs of the industry were addressed through the Aviation Health Safety Protocol, Europe needs now to determine how health safety can be built in as a core factor in aviation operations’.

The ATM industry must do the same as it considers how to enhance safety and security for its eventual recovery. VMware can support the workforce on the ground in both the predictive maintenance and the future-design of systems and applications, preparing the industry for future risk exposure.

Embracing Innovative Technologies

The future can’t be built on the current status quo. In late 2020, Airbus collaborated with Boeing to write a report warning that air traffic management technology must be significantly modernised to manage countless new small aircraft that will occupy future airspace, such as drones and the possibility of smaller ‘air taxis’.

Air Traffic Management teams face a new environment following the devastation of the pandemic. The need to modernise their technology has never been more important to remain competitive and ensure scalability, durability and survival in this new climate, as well as to deliver technical excellence.

In a recent McKinsey report about the airline industry’s challenges in recovering from the pandemic, research highlighted a number of areas technology can deliver improvements in ATM, as well as in aviation in general. Advanced analytics can be used to improve customer experience; during tight connection times, for instance, operations control centres could dynamically adjust cruise speed, and allocate gates to minimise the distance that passengers have to walk between flights.

Meanwhile, technological innovation can play a big part in the long-term environmental goals of the ATM industry. The digital transformation of ATM can build a strong foundation of sustainability prior to the arrival of ‘silver-bullet’ eco-friendly fuels or new propulsion systems. An example is the ability to modernise ground systems – matching ground and aircraft capabilities will allow planes to fly the most fuel-efficient routings possible.

The industry as a whole might have suffered significant setbacks throughout 2020, and the situation is still volatile. Nevertheless, there is a great opportunity for air traffic management organisations to grasp the handle of innovation, enhancing safety and security while delivering on heightened expectations for sustainability. At the same time, a strong digital foundation is key to reduced costs and improved efficiency.

These challenges are industry-wide, and it’s only through collaboration and innovation that we can overcome them.  VMware is committed to delivering the emerging technology that will act as the backbone of the future of flight.

2020 made budgets tighter and spending lighter. As you work your way back to full skies, make the most of what you’ve got and do more with less with app modernization and innovation. Let’s get the skies moving again – get in touch today.


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