Reinvesting in the Future of Air Traffic Management

Posted on 06/08/2021 by vmwareemeasmt

Michael Crowley, Head of Public Sector EMEA, VMware

“Can all passengers strap in for what is expected to be an incredibly quick ride”. This isn’t quite the instruction given to people as they settle in on an aeroplane – but it ought to be. Not literally, of course but certainly as far the development in Air Traffic Management (ATM) is concerned. This is because the ATM industry is being propelled forward at an almost supersonic rate via a combination of the pandemic, the global sustainability agenda, safety and security requirements and technological innovation.

A totem of industrial difficulties

Ironically, this is all happening at a time when much of the world’s aeroplane stock remains grounded. Throughout the pandemic, air travel has been the totem for industrial difficulty – perhaps more so than any other on account of the numbers involved. Even today, the leisure and hospitality industries are largely open, but airports and ATM remain almost redundant in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.

According to McKinsey, global passenger volume is down 64%. Earlier this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 showing that demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell by 66% compared to the full year of 2019, by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history. What this means is that the need to improve operational inefficiency has become paramount. This is not only to reduce costs to make up for losses, but to support sustainability with technology as a driver for good.

The rapid benefits of virtualization

Despite the disruption of the pandemic, technology presents new ways to improve safety, security and efficiency, painting an optimistic picture of what’s ahead. According to the analysts, Frost & Sullivan, the ATM market is expected to reach $4.89 billion by 2027 (CAGR of 4%) due to adoption of automation while investment in smart comms could reach $12.4 billion over the next six years.

This is being driven by innovative solutions such as satellite-based navigation technologies, digital remote towers and low-cost surface surveillance systems, all of which are improving passenger safety and enabling smaller regional airports to gain a competitive edge. But it is in virtualization that the ATM sector is reaping rapid benefits.

Taking advantage of automation

These benefits are being realised because the ATM industry can use remote provision technologies that have already been applied. In doing so it is taking advantage of automation to uncover a wealth of benefits. Early trials by EUROCONTROL on harnessing virtualization to enhance planning and operational activities have shown to boost efficiency and predictability by between 20-30%.

This is just one example. The growth in virtualization within the ATM sector is the foundation for a new model that balances demand, the rationalisation of investment and the ability to be agile and future proofed. Beyond building resilience, a digital integrated airspace contributes to a greener and safer ATM industry, whereby long-term emission reductions have a powerful purpose to play. Something demonstrated by the Single European Sky ATM Research’s (SESAR) figures, which points to intelligent automation as a key driver included a saving of 79,000 tonnes of CO2. The Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (Canso) is also active in its preparations and guidance. It is providing the industry with whitepapers that demonstrate the strategic impact of new technologies on aviation – from blockchain to artificial intelligence (AI) and space-based CNS. As cross-border operations become possible through virtual centres and remote virtual towers, the industry can now explore exactly how to seize each new opportunity.

A three phase journey

To maximise the benefits of this digital ecosystem, ATM organisations need to have three key sequential processes in place. The first of which is staging operations, which means that the industry can build IT pillars such as software defined data centres (SDDC), virtualization and agile Dev/Ops engineering on top of their data centres to significantly reduce time to market.

The second stage is enabling digital services such as hybrid cloud operations before building momentum for capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. This bottom-up approach to the transition paves the way for automated air traffic flow and flow management and the power to understand and leverage historical data. Once these are in place, fully digital service operations can take flight including big data analytics and cloud native solutions. The very notion of going through this journey will automatically take ATM organisations from legacy and basic technical services to advanced cloud operations.

Creating a base of trust

The successful transformation of the ATM sector depends on other factors too, though. The importance of sharing best practices and working collaboratively with both national aviation authorities and end users cannot be understated. This, combined with certified approaches and tried-and-tested technologies, means the aviation industry can overcome barriers of trust and spread its wings with new possibilities such as simultaneous systems.

In doing so it can also support the fight against cybercrime and other digital-based threats. Virtualization enables organisations to identify and remedy a problem faster, rather than hunting down different tools or relying on multiple security vendors. For example, ATM can tackle attacks to systems – such as drones – by taking the live system, tracking the hacker and then creating an identical system for production to take place. 

Empowering the future of aviation

Like many other sectors, ATM is at a crucial moment of change. And whether the challenge is one of security, sustainability or scalability, ATM organisations best able to realise the smooth integration of cloud environments will uncover benefits and solutions able to address the problem head on. And the nettle must be grasped now as the sector begins to emerge from the troubles of the recent past.

Despite the turbulence of the past 18 months, the sector is without doubt ready to take off. We’re on the cusp of some wholesale positive change that will expand business services tomorrow and empower aviation’s future.

For more information, please visit our ATM site here.

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