SESAR JU project to use blockchain technology for more cost-efficient flight sequencing

Mar. 23, 2021

The SESAR JU-funded project SlotMachine aims to develop a solution, enabled by blockchain technology, to automate flight exchanges between different airlines. The research project comes at a time of growing economic pressure on airlines to find ways to minimise cost where possible.

Together with EUROCONTROL, the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, University of Linz (Austria), and Swiss International Airlines, Frequentis aims to foster the emergence of a new kind of marketplace for flight exchange in air traffic management (ATM). The platform to be developed by the SlotMachine consortium is expected to enable more flexible, faster, scalable, and (semi-) automated processing of flight sequence transactions in a fair and trustworthy way. Built with a privacy-first approach, the aim will be to protect sensitive airline data from competitors and airport operators and therefore fully unleashes the potential of flight exchange.

The project will focus on the user-driven optimisation in the allocation of air traffic flow management (ATFM) slots to flights. ATFM slots are allocated times of departure, which are issued by EUROCONTROL’s Network Manager to regulate traffic in congested areas of airspace. Until now, simple exchanges between two flights from the same airline company have been possible. These are a helpful way for airlines to prioritise expensive flights in order to minimise delays and keep costs down.

Flight exchanges between different airlines are currently limited due to the confidentiality surrounding flight cost structures, which may vary for any number of reasons, from the provisioning of connecting flights for passengers or work-time restrictions for crew members. This is where the SlotMachine project comes in. By using blockchain technology and a secure multi-party computation, the project aims to extend the existing user-driven prioritisation process (UDPP) solution currently in development in SESAR 2020 to allow more flexible flight sequences with no need for the disclosure of any confidential information.

This technology allows secure, auditable transactions without the need for a central broker, whereby stakeholders are able to enter flight sequence transactions without disclosing information to other users. By demonstrating the feasibility of a privacy-preserving platform for exchanging ATFM slots, the foundation can be laid for the development of a product that will be an essential element in the aviation industry in the future. It is also expected to lead to a better use of existing resources at airports, higher efficiency of airlines, lower emissions, and shorter delays for passengers.

To ensure the validity of the results, the project will hold an external advisory board to review requirements, design decisions, as well as a demonstrator in two or three iterations throughout the project duration. Representatives from airlines, airports, or ANSPs and other interested stakeholders who want to review and validate the outcomes of this project can still join the advisory board and participate in the upcoming workshops (with the first due to take place at the end of April).

This project has received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 890456