After decades of incremental improvement, a modern, globally-harmonised, requirements-driven air navigation system is now within reach. JOHN PLUQUET reports on the European SESAR and US NextGen air traffic management programmes which are in the vanguard of developing a global system to meet future needs. This is a full article published in Aerospace International: January 2012

[caption id="attachment_6102" align="alignnone" width="373" caption="Both SESAR and NextGen aim to utilise new technology to transform the air traffic control systems in Europe and the US from the present ground-based system to one using global positioning satellites. (FAA)"][/caption] The need to transform air traffic management (ATM) has for some years been acknowledged world-wide and not least in Europe and the US. There is now an increasing emphasis on the need for all the world’s ATM systems to work together smoothly. This article focuses on the part NextGen and SESAR are playing in the delivery of a seamless, performance-based global air navigation system — the International Civil Aviation Organization’s ‘One Sky’ vision. ICAO created the overall blueprint for a new global system over 20 years ago. Since then, the concepts have been explored and refined, strategic plans have been developed, and the required technology has matured. Over the past decade ICAO member states have initiated a number of programmes based on the ICAO blueprint. Their aim is to increase airspace capacity and reduce costs and delays. Currently NextGen (US) and SES/SESAR (Europe) are among the most advanced in terms of co-operation.  

ICAO vision and concept

The ICAO vision is a development of the work of the Future Air Navigation System (FANS) Committees in the 1980s and 1990s. The FANS concept, now known as Communications, Navigation, Surveillance/ Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) systems, is based on the exploitation of new navigation, avionics and communications technologies. The technical foundations of the CNS/ATM approach are information sharing, automation, and the use of satellite-based facilities. These enable fresh approaches to ATM — including a more active role for flight crew and onboard systems, movement away from traditional fixed-route airspace structures to free flight, the use of 4D contracts in trajectory-based flight planning and operations, and the possibility of delegating separation responsibility to the flight deck. The Global ATM Operational Concept (GATMOC), 2005, and the Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP), latest edition 2007, define the required future concept of operations, and provide a planning framework, including 23 Global Plan Initiatives (GPIs).  

Europe — SES and SESAR

In Europe, the Single European Sky (SES) initiative was launched in 1999 to drive significant improvements in European ATM. SES envisaged common technical and operational solutions and the collective management of airspace. Eurocontrol carried out a substantial amount of important early research and planning work. In 2001, the European Community (EC) published its proposed action plan. The first package of European legislation was passed in 2004. It contained mandates for the establishment of functional airspace blocks (FABs), the flexible use of airspace (FUA), common requirements for ANS provision, Interoperability of systems, procedures and technology, and charging for air navigation services. In 2004, the SESAME project was conceived as the technical arm of the SES, and was launched as SESAR (SES ATM Research) in 2005. The objectives given to SESAR were demanding: to deliver a European ATM system for 2020 which would support a three-fold increase in capacity, reduce delays, improve safety performance by a factor of ten, enable a 10% reduction in the environmental impact of flights and reduce ATM costs to airspace users by at least 50%. The SESAR Definition Phase (2005-2008) defined the concept of operations and produced the ATM Master Plan and associated documents. In 2007, the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) was created to implement the ATM Master Plan through the SESAR Development and Deployment phases. The SJU brings together the European Commission, Eurocontrol (which had led the Definition Phase) and ATM and industry partners. The first SESAR Development Phase research projects started in 2009. Deployment is scheduled for 2014 to 2020 and beyond. A second package of European legislation was passed in 2009, extending the competence of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to ATM, and endorsing the ATM Master Plan; it also contained amendments to the 2004 Regulations to strengthen the European performance management framework and paves the way for the appointment of a network manager. In October 2011, the SESAR Master Plan Update project was launched. The new Master Plan, scheduled for summer 2012, will prepare for the SESAR deployment phase, and both reflect, and provide input to, the movement towards global interoperability. The total cost of SESAR is estimated in the region of €30bn.  

US — NextGen

In the US, anticipated capacity shortfalls led to the creation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) programme, now known as NextGen, to enhance air transport capacity by leveraging new technologies. NextGen was approved in 2003, through the Vision 100 — Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, which also established the Joint Program Development Office (JPDO) to manage the programme. The JPDO brings together the private sector, academia and US Government departments. NextGen aims to improve the safety, security, efficiency, quality and affordability of the US National Airspace System, by exploiting data from Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) technologies and integrating and sharing data for situational awareness and seamless global operations. The NextGen system is intended to reduce noise and emissions pollution and to be scalable and adaptable, accommodating the full range of aircraft operations. Plans were announced in January 2004, and the first integrated plan was released in December. The NextGen Concept of Operations, the blueprint for the NextGen system, was issued in June 2007. Significant undertakings of co-operation with Europe were signed in 2006 and 2010. The total cost of NextGen was initially estimated as about $40bn.  

SESAR/NextGen compared

[caption id="attachment_6103" align="alignnone" width="403" caption="Key elements of ICAO, SESAR and NextGen ATM modernisation."][/caption] SESAR and NextGen have similar goals and are driven by similar requirements. They draw on CNS/ATM concepts and are strongly influenced by the ICAO GATMOC. Their architectures can be mapped to each other and to the ICAO vision and concept, with considerable correspondence between all three. Both programmes aim to enhance airspace capacity very substantially, while increasing safety. They will achieve this through the increased use of automation, increased sharing of information, new approaches to flight plans and flight routings, new methods of separation, and extensive use of satellite technology. NextGen’s scope is wider than SESAR’s, with more detail in the area of security. NextGen is ‘kerb-to-kerb’, while SESAR is ‘gate-to-gate’. NextGen envisages new airports. There are differences in the airspaces for which NextGen and SESAR are designed. SESAR is a PPP with direct industry participation; NextGen is government-led and managed. In 2008, the JPDO commissioned a comparison of the SESAR and NextGen operational concepts, to identify areas of alignment and those where additional co-ordination was needed. The study confirmed that the concepts were broadly equivalent in their approaches to improving key areas and were very similar in many aspects of detail. The 2008 JPDO comparative study also looked at the relationships of the programmes’ operational concepts with the global vision set out in the GATMOC, comparing the ‘essences’ of the ICAO, NextGen, SESAR and CARATS (Collaborative Actions for Renovation of Air Traffic Systems — Japan) concepts in each of the key areas. As in the case of the mapping together of the two programmes, the correspondence is good and indicates a firm basis for moving together towards global harmonisation.  

Co-operative links

The need for co-operation between NextGen, SESAR and ICAO was recognised very early in the programmes’ lifecycles. Collaboration was formalised in a number of inter-governmental agreements. The most recent is the Memorandum of Co-operation ratified in 2011 by the US Government and the European Commission which provides for a very high level of co-operation. Previous agreements included the 2006 FAA/EC Memorandum of Understanding creating formal links between SESAR and Nextgen, and MoUs between Eurocontrol and the FAA (1986, 1992, 2004). NextGen and SESAR also have links with CARATS and with ATM improvement initiatives in other parts of the world, including Canada, Mexico, China, India, Brazil and Singapore.  

Montreal Forum 2008

[caption id="attachment_6104" align="alignnone" width="403" caption="Major world air traffic flows (ICAO)."][/caption] The Forum on Integration and Harmonization of NextGen and SESAR into the Global ATM Framework was hosted by ICAO in Montreal in September 2008. The event was attended by representatives from around the globe. This was more than an important exchange of information: the Standards Roundtable process was created, under which management of ICAO, NextGen, SESAR and the industry standards-making bodies meet regularly. This is one of the foundations for the current alignment activity. The Forum also led to specific activities concerning the alignment of NextGen and SESAR.  

Improvement mapping

After Montreal, ICAO performed a ‘Gap Analysis’ of SESAR and NextGen operational improvements. Its purpose was to quantify the standards development work ICAO would need to undertake, and to ensure that NextGen and SESAR were aligned with the GANP and would be compatible and adaptable to global needs, and that the global aviation community could have access to their innovations. The analysis identified over 150 items of clearly defined work, and over 120 items requiring further evaluation. Areas for future collaborative work were identified, building on the recognition of the important role of other standards-making bodies which ICAO Assembly 36 had previously agreed.  

ICAO’s new approach

Delay due to standards-making processes had been seen as a risk to timely programme delivery, especially where concepts required development. A new method of working was agreed by ICAO, Eurocontrol, FAA, SJU and the international standards bodies in October 2009. It was designed to allow all parties to work together in a timely and co-ordinated way. Its key features were:
  1. Concept development work would be carried out by agreed parties and the results reviewed and refined by ICAO
  2. Relevant ICAO sections would develop required provisions and industry groups would develop specifications and technical standards.
The approach was developed in June 2010 by the third Standards Roundtable meeting, which agreed that standards should be bundled. Whereas in the past standards had been developed individually, it was now proposed that standards development would be for bundles of improvements. The bundles would form packages which would fit into the timescales of the major programmes, and could be deployed consistently anywhere in the world and at different times in different areas, to provide the same set of capabilities. Significantly for global interoperability, it was further agreed that all States should be asked to submit their modernisation plans to ICAO for gap analysis. In the near term, the Japanese CARATS programme would be analysed. The 37th ICAO Assembly, later in 2010, discussed the new approach. ICAO would develop the all-important global CNS technology roadmap in co-operation with all stakeholders, and transform the Global Air Navigation Plan into a more dynamic tool. ICAO has adopted the name One Sky for its vision for achieving a harmonised global air navigation system. The One Sky approach is intended to be progressive, cost-effective and co-operative. The approach consists of three levels of activity: global conception, regional implementation planning and national implementation of infrastructure. At the heart of the One Sky approach is the Block Upgrades architecture, the framework for global harmonisation.  

Block upgrades

[caption id="attachment_6106" align="alignnone" width="403" caption="Aviation System Block Upgrades"][/caption] The bundle concept was further developed into the ICAO Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBU) approach. A Block Upgrade is a package of operational improvements known as modules. Each module provides a specific improvement, with a defined business case and specified equipment and systems requirements, standards and procedures, regulatory approval plan and linkage to the GATMOC and the GANP. About 50 modules can be expected. Not all modules will be required in all airspaces. The blocks have been created by a team including representatives of ICAO, the major programmes, airspace users, service providers and standards bodies. The blocks have been created to reflect the NextGen, SESAR and CARATS operational concepts and the GATMOC. The blocks represent vertical (time-based) slices through the developing standards architecture. Roadmaps — such as those for CNS and Avionics — are the horizontal dimension. The baseline block (Block 0) contains what is available now, such as PBN and FUA; Blocks 1 and 2 contain upgrades with initial operating capability (IOC) in 2018 and 2023 respectively. Block 3 IOC is in 2028 and beyond. This article will not attempt to provide a detailed or comprehensive description of the contents of the blocks but the table on this page is intended to give an indication of the improvements each block is likely to contain. Within and across blocks, the modules are grouped by thematic performance improvement area (PIA). PIAs are:
  • Greener airports
  • Globally interoperable systems and data
  • Optimum capacity and flexible flights — global collaborative ATM
  • Efficient flight path — trajectory-based operations.
The ASBU approach was well received by the ICAO Global Air Navigation Industry Symposium held in Montreal in September 2011. It was acknowledged that all parties and all disciplines needed to commit to collaboration if the harmonised global system was to be delivered successfully. The new edition of the GANP, based on ASBUs and including CNS roadmaps, will be presented to the 12th Air Navigation Conference, in November 2012. This will be a key milestone in the global transformation of air navigation.  

Fit for the future

[caption id="attachment_6105" align="alignnone" width="339" caption="The introduction of the new trajectory-based flight planning will enable flight crews to exercise more control over the routes taken by individual aircraft."][/caption] A strong network holds the global picture together. NextGen and SESAR have demonstrated their determination to ensure their solutions are compatible and interoperable; their influence on the ASBU framework has been very strong. The Block Upgrades are designed to facilitate global standards-making and to provide key links both between programmes and to the ICAO vision as expressed in the GATMOC and GANP. The latter have in turn been influential on the conceptual basis of both NextGen and SESAR. Other states are keen to work with NextGen and SESAR and to benefit from their experience. ICAO clearly intends to provide the required global overview and technical co-ordination. There will be many challenges to manage — not least the political and economic turbulence of the 21st century — but firm foundations are being put in place for a global airspace which is fit for the future. The author gratefully acknowledges the information and assistance provided by numerous organisations, including Eurocontrol, the SESAR Joint Undertaking, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Joint Planning and Development Office (USA), the International Civil Aviation Organization and the UK Civil Aviation Authority.  

Aerospace International Contents - January 2012

News Roundup - p4 UK eyes and ears- p 10 The future of British ISR Air cargo: a perfect storm- p14 Air freight and the global economy  To the Red Planet- p 18 Curiosity Rover and future Mars missions Shocks and awe - p 22 Report on the 2011 Dubai Air Show Coming ashore - p 28 Practicing amphibious operations with the RN and RM Vision of the future  - p 30 ICAO, SESAR and NextGen ATM projects Farewell to cash for arms - p 34 Implications to the UK defence industry of the new Bribery Act The last word - p 35 Keith Hayward on the economic role of the UK aerospace industry 
  This is a full article published in Aerospace International: January 2012. As a member, you recieve two new Royal Aeronautical Society publications each month - find out more about membership.

Royal Aeronautical Society
6 January 2012