Air traffic controllers, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and manufacturers recently came together to discuss virtual centres, a solution under development by the SESAR Joint Undertaking. Taking place on 18 June in Brussels, the workshop provided the latest validation results and discussed the further development of the solution, taking into account stakeholder views especially those of controllers.

With virtual centres, Europe is breaking away from the conventional architecture for air traffic management. These centres aim to decouple the physical controller working position (CWP) from the remote provision of ATM data and technical services, such as flight data distribution and management, as well as surveillance data. The aim is to enable greater flexibility when it comes to organising air traffic control operations and, in doing so, seamless and more cost-efficient service provision to airlines and other airspace users.

Having successfully validated the technical feasibility of the solution in SESAR 1, SESAR members and partners are now working together in SESAR 2020 to take the solution out of the lab into a real operational environment for validation, focusing on three use cases: rationalisation of infrastructure, contingency and delegation of airspace.  If all goes to plan, a system prototype in support of the first use case will be further validated during a large-scale demonstration in 2019.

As representatives of the future end users, air traffic controllers (ATCEUC and IFATCA) provided their vision of the transition of the current structure to the future virtualised environment during the workshop. How to deal with system failures in a more complex digital environment, staff mobility and training, and the delegation of responsibility were just some of the matters that were discussed by the 40 workshop participants. Together they agreed that adequate time for planning the transition from the physical to the virtual infrastructure should be taken into account. Similarly, participants also underlined the need to address the regulatory environment, particularly with regard oversight, and the performance and charging regimes.


Participants of the roundtable, from left to right, F Pietrus (DSNA), S. Mennella (skyguide), M. Holzbauer (Frequentis), J-D. Larrere (ATCEUC) and R. Beaulieu (Thales and Project Coordinator)

The workshop was hosted by Eurocontrol within the framework of the SESAR Project 16.03.

More information about the project

Skyguide white paper on virtual centres: