• 2 of July, 2020
    14:30 > 15:15
  • Broadcast from SESAR JU, Brussels , Belgium
  • Map

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There can be no denying that the Coronavirus pandemic has changed aviation fundamentally.  Yet, to date, the focus has been on surviving the crisis and the sudden plunge in traffic.  However, as the situation stabilises it is time to turn to thinking through the deeper implications for European aviation.  The SESAR Joint Undertaking is committed to driving that conversation.  It has convened a series of senior leaders of the industry to discuss these issues.

The first session Is COVID-19 a game changer for ATM? brought together the Director General of Directorate General for Transport, Henrik Hololei and the DG of Eurocontrol, Eamonn Brennan, to discuss with the Executive Director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking the top level implications of the pandemic on European aviation and ATM in particular.  The discussion identified a number of key themes and signposts for the way forward .

 Why is there a need to rethink ATM?

Notwithstanding the significant drop in traffic, there is still traffic in the network – repatriation, cargo and medical flights, for example.  ATM is a 24/7 business; simply turning the entire system off was never an option.  Rather, these days the system could be compared to ‘permanent night shift’.  Consequently, the current structures and processes remain in place.  This includes current nation-based sectors and agreed work practices.  The challenges facing the industry, notably the need for sustainability and digitalisation, have not gone away and will inevitably re-emerge as traffic recovers.

What might a rethought ATM industry look like?

The relatively empty skies allow us a chance to step back and consider a number of issues.  These could include redefining airspace organisation in relation to traffic flows; building resilience and scalability into future ATM design and looking at ways to increase flexibility, such as:

  • Focusing on network-centricity;
  • Re-organising airspace along trajectories and in accordance with traffic flows;
  • Building in flexibility to shift capacity in line with demand, rather than managing demand to fit available capacity;
  • Licensing air traffic controllers by system, rather than by sector;
  • Encouraging the use of open source software where feasible.

How do we get there?

There is a clear need for simplification of the system and the framework within which it operates.  However, simplifying can be complex.  On the regulatory front, there needs to be a renewed push to complete the SES 2+ package of reforms.  It is also an opportunity to redesign the system in line with the Wise Persons Group recommendations and the 2019 Airspace Architecture Study. This requires the commitment to continued investment in research and innovation to prepare the smart and sustainable ATM of the future.

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