Virtual centres, drone integration, block chain technology are just some of the areas that SESAR member Skyguide - Switzerland’s air navigation service provider - is pioneering as part of its innovation programme on air traffic management. In this article, Thomas Buchanan, Senior Advisor International Affairs, talks about the importance of moving with the times and collaborating on research and development at a pan-European level.

Skyguide provides air navigation services for Switzerland and certain adjacent parts of neighbouring countries – and is one of the most complex pieces of airspace in Europe. In Switzerland, the ANSP operates two area control centres at Geneva Airport and near Zurich Airport where it manages 1.2 million civil and military flights per year.  A few years back, with our systems coming to the end of their lifecycle, we started looking at what was available on the market. What we saw was that the ATM technology was still based on a classical computer architecture from the 90s. So we decided to look for more modern technology which is used in other markets, and apply this to ATM. This led us to the virtual centre (VC) model, which is essentially taking a flexible, service-oriented information centric approach.

Changing the paradigm

In SESAR 1, skyguide was an associate partner to both DFS and DSNA and successfully collaborated on various topics, among which was the initial look at the feasibility of virtual centres (B04.04). It was this positive outcome that motivated us to put forward our candidature to become a full SESAR member in SESAR 2020. Together with our daughter company SkySoft-ATM, we are convinced that the virtual environment will at last allow for the next evolution in ATM. In parallel to the development of virtual centres in SESAR, we are also progressing within skyguide on the transition towards a full service oriented architecture (SOA), which will allow us to operate one area control centre from two locations.

Pioneers in drone traffic management

We see ourselves as pioneers in the domain of virtualisation but also in the domain of unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM), where we successfully demonstrated the early capabilities of such a system with live UTM traffic and in close proximity to Geneva airport. Skyguide together with AirMap is developing and deploying Europe's first nationwide drone management system: the Swiss U-space. In June this year, skyguide successfully demonstrated the U-space infrastructure by powering traffic management to hundreds of drones across the country. Swiss U-space will ensure that all categories of drones and all types of missions can safely take flight in Switzerland’s airspace. Swiss U-space will include features such as:

  • Blockchain-based registration for users and drones;
  • Dynamic geofencing and instant digital airspace authorization;
  • Real-time traffic alerts for drone pilots and live drone telemetry for airspace managers;
  • Connectivity and communication between drone pilots and airspace administrators;
  • Other services to enable simultaneous flights in shared airspace.

Value of the SESAR model

For us the SESAR Joint Undertaking (JU) is the ideal entity to push research and development activities to a pan-European level and to get buy-in from our fellow SESAR members on the operational, technical as well as also airborne side. The JU and the running projects create the ideal environment to push for new ideas, to be challenged on our decisions and, most importantly, to allow a collaborative approach to the future system. Being part of the JU also allows us as a non-EU country to have a direct line into the EU services and institutions, to create a single alignment of support from concept, to standards, to regulation and, at a later stage, to a possible deployment of such technologies across several ANSPs in Europe.