Digitalisation is the best way to make air traffic management more efficient, believes Jarosław Piełunowicz, PANSA (B4), who is leading research into a number of automation solutions to support controllers in their work, as part of the SESAR JU’s flagship projects, PROSA (PJ.10) and 4DSkyways (PJ18W2). In this article, he gives an update on the projects’ work and how they are supporting the move to a digital European sky.

Why do you think PJ.10 and 4DSkyways is such an important project for SESAR and the goal of digitalising/modernises ATM?

To understand the rationale behind the work of PROSA, we have to remind ourselves of the core task of a controller: ensuring the safe separation aircraft. As aircraft become more diverse and numerous, the airspace will become more complex to manage. That makes the controller’s job a lot more complex and labour intensive. Building on the work done in the first wave of research, the project is making use of the latest technologies to automate some aspects of the system and to help controllers handle the traffic in a smooth and efficient way. The work of PROSA and its continuity in 4DSkyways very much reflects the adjustments and changes outlined in the European ATM Master Plan and Airspace Architecture Study.

How does the solution you are working on fit in with the objectives of the overall project?

At PANSA, our focus has been on the validation of new and improved conflict detection and resolution tools for controllers. For instance, we have developed a solution making use of data derived from the aircraft (via the Extended projected profile - EPP), which up until now was only available to the pilot and crew. Harnessing this data opens up new horizons for ground systems, which can better predict and address the intentions of aircraft and thanks to that better plan and manage traffic. Also controllers have more reliable information to predict the trajectory of the aircraft, which in turn gives them better awareness of the traffic situation and allows them to plan well in advance.

Why do we need a seamless European sky? How does the solution you are working on contribute to this goal?

A seamless European sky is needed because our airspace is a finite resource so we need to manage it as efficiently as possible.  Like in so many aspects of our lives, digital technologies can help ATM run more efficiently.  True, the traffic has slowed down significantly in the last year due to COVID and forecasts suggest that it will be back to pre-COVID levels in a matter of years. Still, we need to be ready for that now and have the right tools in place to manage the traffic as efficiently as possible. Digitalisation and new tools and systems are the best way to achieve it.

What technologies underpin the solution?

The solutions we are working on are very much data-driven and rely on new ways of receiving new and complex data. We are also making use of machine learning techniques to increase the role of automation in these conflict detection and resolution tools, with the increasing role of automation of those tools. Other solutions within the PROSA and 4DSkyways portfolio are relying on virtualisation (e.g. virtual centres), voice recognition technologies (e.g. enhanced controller working positions), and trajectory predictions and improvements to CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link Communication).

How will the solutions change the work of controllers?

We expect that our solutions will bring more efficiency and safety to the controller’s work. With better information comes greater situational awareness and a stable view of the traffic – all of which greatly improves controllers’ work. These conflict detection and resolution mechanisms, enabled by automation, will support controllers by releasing their precious time to focus on more demanding tasks.

Are passengers likely to see any changes/benefits with the implementation of this solution?

Passengers only know about ATM when there is a problem. This solution and its benefits may go unseen but they are what prevents passengers from getting stuck at an airport waiting for a delayed flight. Also better situational awareness will mean better management of the traffic, all of which will help reduce fuel burn and the climate impact of air transport. 

More about PROSA

More about 4DSkyways