SESAR must be applicable globally

An interview with Luc Lallouette, SESAR Programme Director for the R&D phase at Thales. 

Luc Lallouette is SESAR Programme Director for the R&D phase of the programme, an appointment made after he became International Director for the Tactical Communications Business Line of Thales Group. Previously he has held other senior management positions in the Thales Group, including CEO of Thales Safare, a subsidiary specialised in naval communication products and solutions, and head of the Communication, Navigation and Surveillance Business Unit in Thales Communications.

1. Mr Lallouette, Thales is the largest contributor to the SESAR programme after Eurocontrol. Why did Thales decide to be so heavily involved in the programme?

Thales has been a key player from the instigation of the programme. Even before the definition phase, Thales was active in promoting the concept.
Thales wants to remain a front runner in the ATM industry and to protect customers past investment. We want to actively participate in SESAR in such a way that realistic upgrade paths are defined for underlying systems and technologies. We are therefore fully committed to supporting the Single European Sky initiative and SESAR programme.

2. What are the unique features of Thales as a partner in the programme?

We are unique in that we are the only industrial partner that is active in the ground, air and space sectors. This is key for us because the future of ATM will integrate all the different sensors, satellite, airborne or ground-based.
A second feature of Thales that brings added value to SESAR is that we are not only a European industrial player but also a very important player in ATM markets worldwide. This fielded experience and global operational feedback is key in ensuring that SESAR will define solutions that are globally applicable.

3. Thales is involved in some of the most innovative projects –System Wide Information Management (SWIM) for example or Communication-Navigation Surveillance (CNS) technologies. What are your expectations regarding these projects?

Thales contributes to many projects in the SESAR programme and all work packages. In all these projects we want to engage ATM stakeholders in using the existing technologies that could already be used in the current industry and we want to improve them. This is especially true for CNS. We also want to define the enabling technology for the SESAR concept of operations and in particular the trajectory based operations in a SWIM environment.
The SWIM concept lies at the heart of the SESAR programme, requiring the input of all participants. Leading this work package is very important to us, for the convergence of stakeholders and member states around common viewpoints and technologies. The cooperation is almost more important in itself than the technology that will be produced by the R&D.

4. What are in your view the needs of airspace users in terms of new air traffic management systems?

Airspace users want primarily to be able to optimise and implement trajectories which suit them best: reduce delays, reduce travel time, reduce costs and provide maximum flexibility. Obviously any new ATM system must retain safety as being centrally important, while reducing their environmental footprint is another expectation of airspace users.
Again, there are technologies that are already available but not widely used that could bring short-term benefits to airspace users, such as Microwave Landing Systems (MLS) for navigation or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADSB).

5. Where do you see risks in the programme?

SESAR is a huge programme with many participants and actors involved and probably around 300 different projects. Maintaining tight coordination between all projects and all actors is a real challenge and insufficient coordination is one of the main risks.
Managing so many actors and projects requires a process and methodology that is efficient – the second big risk is that this may be too constraining on the research carried out. Thirdly, if we don’t see and agree on the way to implement the deployment phase early enough it might reduce enthusiasm and commitment from participants.
The R&D work programme is well settled and agreed by stakeholders but deployment is key. We need to agree the pathway and timeframe for the deployment phase even while we are still in the early stages of the R&D phase. Also, if we find that budget is not made available for the deployment phase this might impact progress in the R&D programme.

6. How does such a European programme enhance the competitiveness of European industry?

The SESAR R&D programme is a huge investment for European industry and should definitely therefore enhance Europe’s competitiveness, with one condition: the outputs from SESAR must be applicable worldwide. This is the key issue about global interoperability.
American actors are very active worldwide and NextGen programme with both R&D and implementation activities addressed at the same time will constitute a good benchmark for the SESAR initiative and its capability to timely deliver the expected results.

7. How does the SESAR programme fit in the international context of air traffic management technologies?

The unique situation here is down to fragmentation, which is peculiar to Europe. If SESAR tries too hard to take account of this fragmentation then its outputs may be too tailored to European needs and will not improve the situation internationally.
Everyone involved is well aware of the need for NextGen and SESAR to be interoperable. There are already some good initiatives to ensure this interoperability, with some projects mirrored in both the SESAR and FAA-supported programmes; for example, the avionics interoperability roadmap which is addressed in both SESAR and in NextGen programmes is a good start. We need coordination and reciprocity at both the political and industrial levels:
For the rest, we see similar demands from Asia in terms of trajectory management, cost reduction and safety objectives.

8. What are the benefits of European research and development programmes as opposed to mere national ones?

Fragmentation and national interests can create barriers and obstacles to reducing costs and improving flexibility. There are obvious risks to continuing with this national approach. It is already a significant achievement to have created a European programme with strong commitment from its participants.

9. How does the SESAR programme fit in with Thales’ own R&D priorities? Are there synergies?

SESAR is a major investment for Thales, with the majority of our R&D investment now dedicated to the programme. We are the biggest industrial investor and the second biggest overall after Eurocontrol, so for us, synergies are a must.
SWIM and trajectory management have the highest priority for us and we want to make sure that SESAR investments are in line with what we believe the market is expecting worldwide.

10. You are a member of the SJU’s Administrative Board. How do you see the cooperation between the different aviation stakeholders? Is it a new experience to have the whole ATM community developing ideas together?

It’s an exciting experience for us and a unique situation to have all service providers, airports, etc. together on one table.  The role of the SJU is extremely challenging but important, as maintaining consistency and convergence will not be a piece of cake.
It is very challenging, but from what we have seen, after only a few years in the definition and early R&D phases, we are very happy and positive about the strategy. The road is long but at least as far as the early stages have gone, we are extremely satisfied.
In SESAR, we have all relevant stakeholders on board, but there needs to be a strong role for the SJU in coordinating military airspace users and airlines input in the R&D phase. Airlines will play a vital role in specifying the requirements and in supporting trials and validation before deployment.

11. What are in your view the biggest challenges for Thales in the programme?

The biggest challenge for the programme is not unique to Thales but is shared by all SESAR members and the SJU; it is the management of this large complex programme and avoiding the danger of its 300 projects turning into another kind of fragmentation.
The involvement of every participant is key and this is where the role of the SJU is vital, although as the largest industrial participant, Thales will also play its role here.
Getting the deployment phase right is also a challenge; reassuring investors in the R&D phase that results will be implemented as early as possible. SESAR represents a huge investment for both industry and European public money and we must ensure return on this investment.
Overall we are extremely satisfied with the way the programme has started. There will be difficulties ahead but we are on the right path, and there is a strong will among its members to make SESAR a success.