Atheras Analytics to Improve Ka-band Link Outage Predictions

Atheras Analytics, a global leader in predicting and managing the effects of atmospheric/weather impairments on Ka-band and Q/V-band satellite links, has announced its successful award of a co-funded ARTES development contract, for its TEMPESTAS project. The project will be carried out under ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) Core Competitiveness program with the support of UK Space Agency (UKSA) and SES, a provider of global satellite connectivity solutions.

This 18-month project will enable Atheras Analytics to enhance the accuracy of its Ka-band and Q/V-band link outage predictions through the use of satellite weather imagery and low-cost rain-radar installed at gateway locations worldwide. SES will support the development by providing Ka-band link propagation data and hosting the rain-radar at its teleport sites where possible.

“With the support of ESA’s ARTES program, we will be able to further improve our ability to accurately predict weather related outages for multi-gateway Ka-band and Q/V-band satellite networks,” said John Yates, managing director, Atheras Analytics, commented. “This is a vital requirement because these networks have become essential to deliver high throughput satellite (HTS) and Very High Throughput Satellites (VHTS) services globally.”

Constantin Siriteanu, TEMPESTAS technical officer at ESA added, “The ARTES Core Competitiveness Programme is designed to help industry develop innovative product or service ready for the commercial market. With ESA’s support, Atheras Analytics will be able to further improve the efficacy of its product and service, to bring benefit to the satellite industry.” 

Joel Grotz, senior manager of technology development, SES, added, “The development of reliable near-term weather predictions for gateways for the operation of Ka-band as well as Q/V-band links in the context of high system availability and high throughput requirements is of great relevance for the industry. We welcome this ESA-supported initiative and are happy to take part in developing measures that enable enhanced accuracy of the results.”

As the satellite industry moves towards the use of higher capacity satellites operating in higher frequency bands, there is an increasing need to effectively plan and manage the large number of gateway networks required to support these services, in particular the management and mitigation of weather-related events. The ESA ARTES program will enable Atheras Analytics to further enhance and refine its technology enabling satellite operators to effectively manage these complex multi gateway networks.

TTTech Aerospace’s Mature TTEthernet Network Solutions Enable Honeywell Anthem’s System Architecture

Aviation applications are more connected and more data-driven than ever before. Modern flight decks need to accommodate these needs and provide pilots with real-time information in an easily accessible and actionable format. Honeywell Anthem is a next-generation, modular and highly intuitive integrated flight deck that can be customized for virtually every type of aircraft, from passenger planes and business aircraft to defense, general aviation, and advanced air-mobility (AAM) vehicles. The highly intuitive and modular/scalable system architecture is enabled by TTTech Aerospace’s open standards-based high-performance TTEthernet network solution (implementing Deterministic Ethernet technology) guaranteeing safe, secure, and reliable data transfers in the avionics network.

“TTTech Aerospace’s open standards-based TTEthernet solution is a great fit for the data backbone network in Honeywell Anthem, as it enables faster integration, system and application software upgrades, and technology insertions for a future-proof platform thanks to its high performance, determinism, and modularity. TTTech Aerospace contributes not only certifiable switches and end systems but also development tools and test equipment enabling a shorter time-to-market for building a DAL A-level avionics network,” says Andrew Barker, vice president/general manager – avionics business enterprise at Honeywell Aerospace.

TTEthernet is a commercial implementation of deterministic ethernet that uniquely allows three traffic classes based on open international standards to use one physical medium without interference (standard ethernet according to IEEE 802.3, rate-constrained traffic according to ARINC 664 part 7, and time-triggered ethernet according to SAE AS6802). This ensures optimal use of bandwidth and guarantees that safety-critical messages (e.g., weather conditions, airport traffic news, system alerts) are transmitted at the pre-scheduled time while opening the rest of the available bandwidth for non-critical messages (e.g., video feeds or non-flight-critical apps). In the space sector, TTEthernet has also been baselined for deep space missions in the International Avionics System Interoperability Standards (IASIS) by NASA, ESA, CSA, and JAXA and is being implemented among others on NASA’s Gateway.

TTTech Aerospace’s TTEthernet offering for the aviation market is based on the main building blocks of the TTE-Switch Module A664 Pro and the TTE-End System A664 Core IP. It includes very powerful network configuration and qualifiable V&V software tools supporting the setup and integration of TTEthernet networks.

TTTech Group has been applying Deterministic Ethernet solutions successfully across a wide range of industries for more than two decades. This expertise has been the basis for TTTech Aerospace’s mature TTEthernet product line explains Werner Köstler, member of the executive board – Aerospace at TTTech: “Our TTEthernet solutions are fully DAL A certifiable, offering data transfer rates of up to 1 Gbit/s and allow scaling to larger vehicles and system extensions for future applications. We have been working with Honeywell on system architectures based on deterministic networking solutions since 2000 and have successfully collaborated on a wide range of groundbreaking projects in the aviation and space sectors, from engine controls and civil avionics to the NASA Orion spacecraft. We have also jointly contributed to the standardization of Deterministic Networking technology (TTP in the SAE AS6003 and Time-Triggered Ethernet in the SAE AS6802 standard). We are proud to continue our long and successful partnership with Honeywell and to be a part of their future-oriented Honeywell Anthem flight deck solution.”

Safety Expert Jeff Guzzetti Adds Perspective to Recent NYT Article About Aviation Safety

In late August, The New York Times published an exposé called “Airline Close Calls Happen Far More Often Than Previously Known” by Sydney Ember and Emily Steel. The story purports that near-catastrophic events in commercial aviation are increasing. The article says the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) (also known to many in the aviation industry as the NASA reporting system because for many years that program has been overseen and monitored by NASA) has reports that indicate these events have more than doubled over the past decade.

Does the NYT article get it right? Or are they fearmongering? Perhaps we are just privy to more information than in years past, creating a sense that these events are increasing? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was quick to respond, saying in a statement, “The U.S. aviation system is the safest in the world, but one close call is one too many. The FAA and the aviation community are pursuing a goal of zero serious close calls, a commitment from the Safety Summit in March. The same approach virtually eliminated the risk of fatalities aboard U.S. commercial airlines. Since 2009, U.S. carriers have transported more than the world’s population with no fatal crashes.”

Additionally, the FAA noted that data shows runway incursions are steadily decreasing and released a statement saying the FAA will hold runway safety meetings at approximately 90 airports between now and the end of September. “Sharing information is critical to improving safety,” said Tim Arel, chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “These meetings, along with other efforts, will help us achieve our goal of zero close calls.”

Whether or not the NYT or the FAA is more correct, one thing is certain. The flying public puts their trust in the air transportation system and deserves the safest possible system within the constraints of human frailty.

To gain more clarity on this report and our commercial aviation safety record, I spoke to aviation safety expert Jeff Guzzetti. Guzzetti is a 40-year aviation safety industry veteran having held leadership positions within the FAA, the NTSB, the Office of The Inspector General – Aviation and now as head of GuARD (Guzzetti Aviation Risk Discovery) and analyst for multiple news outlets. I quoted Guzzetti in my ednote but space did not allow for all of his input to be included in the print issue. Here are all of Guzzetti’s complete answers to my questions:

1. Are these near-catastrophic events increasing? 

No. The article even says so, by quoting FAA statistics that, after a rise in 2013, the number has gone done since 2018 to now.  And what is “catastrophic” anyway? What timeframe is being selected for the “increase.”

Also, runway incursions are classified as “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”, with “A” being the “near-catastrophic” ones, B being concerning, and C and D being very minor. Also, most Class A events involve single-engine Cessna and Pipers, not airliners. Class A events involving airliners have not increased.

2. Does the NYT article get anything right?

They get most of it right, but the article seems to promote an erroneous impression of “the sky is falling.” Their facts are correct, but their cherry-picked NASA ASRS narratives and quotes from disgruntled ATC controllers do not provide a balanced or nuanced description of the current situation.

3. Are they fear mongering?

Yes. Not outrageously so, but yes. I don’t think they intended to “fear-monger,” but, to them — journalists who live outside of the day-to-day aviation operations — their research was “shocking” to them.

4. Are we just privy to more information than years past, creating a sense that these events are increasing?

Yes. The commercial aviation community is safer today because most airlines have adopted “non-punitive” self-reporting systems that has generated significantly more information about “near misses” or mistakes that could have led to accidents. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, which is why we are privy to more information. Additionally, for air traffic control issues, new technology has allowed better automatic reporting, and the FAA has developed and promoted a non-punitive voluntary safety reporting program called “ATSAP”  — Air Traffic Safety Action Program.

5. The article refers to “a safety net under mounting stress” — does that reference ring true?

I think it would be more accurate and appropriate to say that it is a “safety net under stress”…delete “mounting”.  The aviation safety net is constantly under varying levels and types of “stress.”  For example, using satellite-based navigation and glass cockpits has significantly lessened the stress on the safety net over the years (compared to ADF approaches with steam gauges), but new challenges like increasing air travel, a temporary shortage of controllers, and a pilot shortage have replaced that stress to some degree.

6. The article says “ASRS reports have more than doubled.” Is that accurate? What types of reports?

What does that mean? Are they referring to all NASA reports? Or just ones from airline pilots who report near misses? Regardless, I am not sure what has doubled, or why. But I do know that pilots notoriously over-exaggerate these types of occurrences because it is hard to accurately perceive distances and flight dynamics. The rule of thumb at the NTSB for comparing DFDR data with pilot comments was a three-to-one ratio (i.e., “we were in a 90-degree bank !”, when the DFDR indicated 35 degrees).

7. The NYT article has current and former ATC controllers saying that “close calls were happening so frequently that they feared it was only a matter of time until a deadly crash occurred.” Is this believable? Accurate?

I don’t believe it. This statement is truly fearmongering. Did every controller they talked to say this? I doubt it. And what does it mean to say “it is only a matter of time until a deadly crash occurs.”? Not to be glib, but It is “only a matter of time” before we all die. 

8. What else needs visibility in aviation safety?

a. Lack of a permanent, strong, qualified FAA Administrator, causing a decrease in morale, support, and stability of the FAA workforce

b. FAA employee brain-drain due to retirements, and a lack of adequate respect and incentives to recruit the next generation of inspectors and engineers.

c. Lack of an adequate budget to fund new technology.

d. Significant mechanic shortage.

9. Do you agree with the article that there is a shortage of air traffic controllers? If so, why does that shortage exist?

Yes. I very much agree. The NYT got this right. The proof can be found in a recent audit report from the DOT Inspector General. Like all of their reports, the DOT IG report on air traffic controllers is accurate and non-biased. Here is a link to that report:

10. Does the “uptick” in events, if any, have anything to do with the influx of new, less experienced pilots?

Yes. To some degree, in my view. There does appear to be more improper flightcrew actions occurring, possibly due to inexperience and less competent pilots. But I don’t know exactly how much of a role that is playing. It’s anecdotal.

11. What safety equipment is needed on the ground and in airplanes?

I agree with the article’s critique about the FAA’s failure to implement Runway Safety Technologies (such as ASSC and ASDE-X). That equipment has been available for years, but FAA has dragged their feet on implementing it, because it is lost in a sea of crisis-of-the-day priorities.

Also, the development of “sense and avoid” and AI tech should be accelerated.

But I think that technology is only a part of the solution. It is the HUMAN element that needs to be nourished. For example, runway safety meetings (like the FAA recently announced) need to occur more frequently. The FAA should be allowed to “over hire” controllers so that there are trained and experienced controllers instantly ready to replace retired controllers. The initial and recurrent training of controllers should be enhanced. Safety management systems should be better implemented.

12. Are we simply due for a major airline accident?

No. We should not tolerate such an accident from occurring. One will occur eventually, but not because “we are due.” And hopefully not anytime soon.

I find it stunning that the last time we had a Part 121 major airline accident in the U.S., involving a large jet airplane, was American Airlines Flight 587 in New York…22 years ago. Then, there was the Part 121 small jet airplane accident in Lexington, Kentucky a few years later. We are talking about decades since the last large jet airline disaster. And in a nation with the densest and most populous air traffic in the world. 

13. What about duty time for controllers? Is that an issue that might be contributing to aviation safety?

Many controllers earn well over $200,000 a year. Some can earn more if they subject themselves to volunteer overtime. Even the NYT article indicates that the controllers want this schedule. And the schedule was improved after the “sleeping controller” fiasco a few years back.

That said, I agree that the controller shortage is a stressor on the system, but there are standards in place to decrease the flow of traffic at the locations of the facilities.

14. FAA lacks a plan to hire controllers. What should they be doing?

Page 18 of the recent DOT OIG report that I mentioned earlier (see link above) provides some answers:

To improve FAA’s ability to ensure adequate staffing at its critical facilities, we recommend that the Federal Aviation Administrator:

1. Complete a comprehensive review of the model for distribution of certified professional controllers (CPC) for air traffic control facilities and update interim CPC staffing levels as necessary.

2. Implement a new labor distribution system that includes features such as timekeeping, overtime and Controller-in-Charge tracking, and real-time leave balances.

15. How do we stop the fraying?

Aviation safety is all about MANAGING RISKS.  There will always be risks (i.e., fraying”) associated with flight.  We will never be able to “stop” the risks if we continue to fly, but we can mitigate them to an “acceptable” level.  I think the FAA is doing a good job of that.

16. Are there any other sources of information about this situation that interested parties should be looking at?

These DOT OIG reports:

Hughes JUPITER 3 Satellite Successfully Launches, Heralds New Era of Connectivity

Hughes JUPITER 3 Satellite Successfully Launches, Heralds New Era of Connectivity

Hughes Network Systems announced its JUPITER 3 ultra-high-density satellite successfully launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A in Florida. Also known as EchoStar XXIV, JUPITER 3 was built by Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, Calif., and is engineered to deliver gigabytes of connectivity to customers across North and South America.

On July 29 at 2:32 a.m. EDT, three hours and twenty-eight minutes after lift-off, JUPITER 3 successfully deployed from the launch vehicle. The satellite began sending and receiving its first signals, and engineers deployed the JUPITER 3 solar arrays, which unfolded in space to their full ten-story span.

“JUPITER 3 is the highest capacity, highest performing satellite we’ve ever launched. As the leading provider and inventor of satellite internet, we’re proud to herald the start of a new era of connectivity and serve more customers where cable and fiber cannot,” said Hamid Akhavan, CEO, EchoStar. “This purpose-built satellite is engineered uniquely to meet our customers’ needs and target capacity where it’s needed most, such as the most rural regions of the Americas, so they can stay connected to the applications and services they depend on every day.”

Over the next several weeks, JUPITER 3 will travel into a geosynchronous orbit 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the Earth to its destination at the 95 degrees west orbital slot. It will then undergo extensive bus and payload testing before entering service and augmenting the Hughes JUPITER fleet with more than 500 Gbps of additional capacity.

“Whether helping a student in Mexico expand her horizons with access to technology, connecting a farmer in Idaho with the tools to monitor his crops, or connecting a senior in Montana to her doctor via a telehealth appointment, JUPITER 3 will connect our customers to what matters most,” added Akhavan.

With JUPITER 3, Hughes will enhance its HughesNet offerings for customers in the U.S. and Latin America with more broadband capacity overall and higher speed plans in many markets — some with download speeds up to 100 Mbps. The company will also offer higher speed HughesNet Fusion® plans, the innovative low-latency home internet that leverages multipath technology to blend satellite and wireless technologies seamlessly into a low-latency satellite internet experience.

With dense, high-throughput capacity across the Americas, JUPITER 3 will also support applications such as in-flight Wi-Fi, enterprise networking and cellular backhaul for mobile network operators (MNOs).

Panasonic Avionics Unveils Major Expansion to GEO Satellite Connectivity Network

Panasonic Avionics Unveils Major Expansion to GEO Satellite Connectivity Network

Panasonic Avionics announced an expansion of its global connectivity network, with the addition of new and expanded GEO (geostationary) Ku-band satellite capacity that delivers higher-speed in-flight internet connections for airlines and their passengers.

The world’s leading supplier of in-flight entertainment and communication systems is adding new HTS (High Throughput Satellites) and XTS (Extreme Throughput Satellites) to its connectivity network that will enhance coverage over North, Central and South America, the North and South Atlantic Ocean, Europe, the Middle East, Arabian Sea, Africa, and the Indian Ocean.

Panasonic Avionics is also expanding its current capabilities by introducing additional HTS capacity over China and Japan, building on existing connectivity investments in this region.

This expansion represents a 50% global capacity increase, ensuring reliable and robust high-speed internet services; accelerated speeds of up to 75 Mbps per aircraft through HTS and up to 200 Mbps through XTS satellites; network coverage that spans continents and oceans, offering enhanced connectivity to both domestic and international travelers; a phased deployment plan, with completion by the end of 2023. Panasonic also says these enhancements will “instantly and automatically benefit current and future customers without any changes to hardware or software.”

John Wade, vice president of Panasonic Avionics’ In-flight Connectivity Business Unit, said, “For the past few years, we have seen exponential growth in the adoption of in-flight connectivity. Passengers want faster internet speeds for traditional services like email, web browsing, social media and messaging, and they are increasingly looking to stream content, play games in flight, and use collaborative cloud-based applications. This major expansion of our global connectivity network will ensure that Panasonic Avionics consistently exceeds the growing demand for these kinds of enhanced in-flight experiences.

“Given our unique approach to satellite capacity, and with our multi-layered, multi-orbit connectivity network, Panasonic Avionics has the unique ability to leverage a wide range of different, industry-leading satellites, rather than the high-risk approach of relying solely on proprietary satellite technology. This enables Panasonic Avionics to add new capacity quickly and easily when and where it’s needed, ensuring we can deliver an advanced and virtually uninterrupted service. The result is a better experience for passengers and higher Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for airlines.”

This network expansion highlights Panasonic Avionics’ long-term commitment to customer-driven innovation, and its focus on continuous improvement and pivoting quickly in response to evolving market needs.

This commitment is exemplified by Panasonic Avionics’ forthcoming launch of multi-orbit connectivity services. This innovative approach incorporates an electrically steered antenna (ESA) capable of accessing a combination of GEO and LEO (low earth orbit) satellites.

Panasonic Avionics’ in-flight connectivity services have been selected by more than 70 of the world’s leading airlines.

FAA Invests Another $121M to Reduce Chance of Close Calls at Airports

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded more than $121 million to airports across the country to reduce the risk of runway incursions. Projects will reconfigure taxiways that may cause confusion, install new lighting systems and provide more flexibility on the airfield.

“The FAA is serious about ending runway incursions and we are putting substantial resources behind our efforts,” said Associate Administrator for Airports Shannetta Griffin, P.E. “In some cases the best way to address safety risks is modifying or reconfiguring existing airfields – these grants directly address those situations.”

Recent projects announced today: 

  • Boston Logan International: $44.9 million to simplify airfield layout by removing part of Taxiway Q and F as identified in the airport’s runway incursion mitigation plan; rehabilitates Taxiway T, N and M pavement to ensure safe airfield operations and 10,083 feet of the existing Runway 15R/33L to maintain the structural integrity of the pavement and to minimize foreign object debris.
  • Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport: $39.8 million to simplify airfield layout by removing part of Taxiway Z to for geometric improvements; installs a new Taxiway E lighting system for Taxiway E and R  to enhance safe airfield operations during low visibility conditions; extends Taxiway Z an additional 400 feet to meet the operational needs of the airport; widens Taxiway Z and E due to a change in the critical design aircraft using the airport and extends Taxiway R to meet the operational needs of the airport.
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: $5 million to begin construction of new connector taxiways to Runways 1/19 and 15/33 to reduce the delays of existing traffic and reconfigures Taxiways J, K, L, N, N1, S and Hold Bays 15 and 19 to meet Federal Aviation Administration design standards.
  • Willow Run Airport, Detroit, Michigan: $12.8 million to construct a 6,720 foot parallel Taxiway A to eliminate the need for aircraft to back-taxi on the runway. 
  • Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport, Ohio: $4.6 million to shift Taxiway B11 from its current airfield location to 450 feet east to meet FAA design standards and improve 16,450 square feet of the airport’s taxiway safety area erosion control system to eliminate ponding on airfield surfaces to meet Federal Aviation Administration design standards.
  • Richmond International Airport, Virginia: $5.6 million to shift Taxiway E from its current airfield location to the north to meet Federal Aviation Administration design standards.
  • Jackson Hole Airport, Wyoming: $2.6 million to construct a 1,500 foot Taxiway to eliminate the need for aircraft to back-taxi on the runway and to rehabilitate 2,400 feet of the existing Taxiway A pavement to maintain the structural integrity of the pavement and to minimize foreign object debris.
  • Naples Municipal Airport, Florida: $3.5 million to reconfigure Taxiway A at the intersection with Taxiway B to improve non-standard pavement geometry; shift Taxiway A3 and reconstruct 3,000 feet of the existing service road to enable the safe movement of vehicles and ground service equipment.

In March, the FAA held a safety summit to address recent incidents. The summit brought together leaders from across the aviation sector, including airlines, flight and ground crews, and air traffic control, to find potential causes and needed actions to uphold safety.

The FAA has introduced several runway safety technologies to provide pilots and controllers increased situational awareness.

  • Runway Status Lights: The in-pavement lights alert pilots that entering a runway is unsafe due to other traffic on or approaching the runway. 
  • Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X): A surveillance system using radar, multilateration and satellite technology that allows air traffic controllers to track surface movement of aircraft and vehicles. It or its sister system, Airport Surface Surveillance Capability, is located at the country’s 43 largest airports. 
  • ASDE-X Taxiway Arrival Prediction: Predicts when a pilot lines up to land on a taxiway and provides a visual and audible alert to controllers.

The recently announced funding comes from several sources, including the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

UK NATS Shuts Down Due to Technical Problem

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) of Britain shut down Monday, August 28 due to technical issues. The shutdown caused major problems for travelers on flights. The issue was resolved but the ramifications continued to reverberate throughout the system in Europe impacting travelers trying to return from abroad as well as those departing the UK.

The agency said their automatic flight plans processing system malfunctioned. This required them manually input data and caused numerous delays and cancellations.

A statement made by video said the system was repaired. “It was fixed earlier on this afternoon. However, it will take some time for flights to return to normal, and we will continue to work with the airlines and the airports to recover the situation,” said NATS operations director Juliet Kennedy in a video on its website. “Our absolute priority is safety and we will be investigating very thoroughly what happened today.”

“The flight planning issue affected the system’s ability to automatically process flight plans, meaning that flight plans had to be processed manually which cannot be done at the same volume, hence the requirement for traffic flow restrictions. Our priority is always to ensure that every flight in the UK remains safe and we are sincerely sorry for the disruption this is causing. Please contact your airline for information on how this may affect your flight,” the statement said.

Connectivity Central to Modernization of Airspace Management

Connectivity Central to Modernization of Airspace Management

In today’s commercial aviation market, the efficient management of airspace is crucial for the smooth operations of airlines. Unfortunately, current airspace management regimes hampered by limited connectivity pose challenges to on-time operations. This is why modernizing these regimes through enhanced connectivity and digitalization is a top priority for regulators and businesses involved in airspace.

Coping With Multiple Challenges

Managing space is a difficult task at the best of times — and these are not the best of times. A case in point: “Over the past three years, European aviation has faced events moving faster than the overall ability to control them, such as the pandemic, war in Ukraine, economic crisis, and climate change,” said Razvan Bucuroiu, head of airspace and capacity at EUROCONTROL, a civil-military body which coordinates air traffic management for 43 states across Europe. Meanwhile, “traffic has been recovering well across the EUROCONTROL network,” he said. “We are expecting [traffic] well over 2022 figures and a recovery rate of up to 95% when compared to 2019.” This rebound is occurring at a time when overflight restrictions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have reduced the amount of available airspace.

Razvan Bucuroiu,EUROCONTROL
Razvan Bucuroiu,

The overall state of European airspace management has been in decline for a decade, due to the system’s inability to cope with air traffic increases. Since 2013, “the European network has seen a decrease in operational performance as capacity has lagged behind demand,” he said.

According to Bucuriou, there are several reasons for this decrease. For instance, “European airspace still remains fragmented in terms of airspace organization and supporting service provision and infrastructure,” he said. As well, air traffic control (ATC) sectors remain defined by national boundaries. “This leads to lower overall capacity and several flight-path inefficiencies — as the alignment of operational boundaries does not follow traffic flows, this increases the need for handovers and coordination between sectors in different countries,” said Bosman. “A number of measures are regularly taken at network and local level to address capacity enhancements in various areas of the European air traffic management, but they are not sufficient as cross-border aspects are still difficult to address.”


“Fragmentation also arises through smaller than optimal operational units within national Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs),” said Paul Bosman, EUROCONTROL’s head of infrastructure. “These units may have become sub-optimal, for example, as changes in the technology of service provision have increased the optimum size of a center. There is also a duplication of Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) systems and of associated support services.”

It doesn’t help that the majority of communications with pilots are still conducted vocally through VHF radio, he said, rather than by direct data connections such as EUROCONTROL’s Datalink. “Communication via radio does consume a significant part of air traffic controllers’ (ATCs) working time,” Bosman said. “If more messages could be communicated via Datalink, it would help.”

EUROCONTROL’s assessment is endorsed by air traffic management companies such as Collins Aerospace and Thales Airspace Mobility Solutions.

“The challenges that get in the way of on-time operations are lack of data-sharing in real time across multiple platforms, legacy/analog communications systems, outdated traffic flow management systems, and the ability to quickly recover when an irregular operation does happen,” said Gene Hayman, Collins Aerospace’s director of CAS government services. “Because ANSPs have traditionally procured ATM capability as large and complex, build-to-design, on-premises systems, they tend to have limited capability in sharing with other systems. Yes, these systems can be enhanced and upgraded — but only to a certain extent. In the end, just like any computer, there are inherent technical limitations of these ATM systems that eventually render them obsolete.”

Benjamin Binet,Thales
Benjamin Binet,

“There has been limited sharing of real-time trajectory information between both airborne and ground systems,” added Benjamin Binet, Thales’ vice president of strategy and public affairs for airspace mobility solutions. “Using a single trajectory model for each flight as the single source of truth would provide the best operational efficiency, safety, and needs.”

The takeaway: When it comes to the various elements restricting airspace availability — not just in Europe but worldwide — “all of these factors result in a limitation of the available capacity, a lacking of overall 4D trajectory optimization, high saturation of radio frequencies, limited automation support/high proportion of manual work (leading to heavy processes and high ATC workload), limited sharing of data and lack of interoperability between ANSPs, airspace users and airports, as well as high buffers across the planning and execution chain due to limited predictability reducing actual usage of existing capacity,” Bucuroiu said.

EUROCONTROL is modernizing European airspace management through Common Project 1 (CP1) effort, the international effort to create an integrated, connected and efficient ATC system across the European continent. Shown here, an Emirates A380 landing at the airport in Nice, France.
EUROCONTROL is modernizing European airspace management through Common Project 1 (CP1) effort, the international effort to create an integrated, connected and efficient ATC system across the European continent. Shown here, an Emirates A380 landing at the airport in Nice, France.

Improving Airspace Management Through Technology

Digitally driven aircraft/ground and aircraft/aircraft connectivity is seen as the most practical and promising solution to the limitations affecting airspace capacity. The goal is to get everyone and everything talking to each other digitally in real time, resulting in significantly enhanced situational awareness, closer aircraft spacing without sacrificing safety, and more responsive ATC management.

This is why AIR Lab — a joint venture between Thales and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore — is working on Trajectory Based Operations (TBO), which enables aircraft continuous descents into major airports for greater operational efficiency and reduced carbon emissions/fuel burn. As well, AIR Lab is working on integrating uncrewed aircraft into ATC operations, to ensure the safety of commercial airliners. “They are providing customers with the option to integrate best-in-breed systems and components within their ATM system via OpenSky Platform for the best possible operational outcomes suited to their specific environment and operational needs,” Binet said.

Meanwhile, Collins Aerospace is focused on developing products and services that enable a fully connected aviation ecosystem. To make this happen, “we work closely with ANSPs, airlines and airports to leverage our ecosystem of aviation-related data, network connectivity, and ATM systems,” said Hayman. “By integrating real-time data across all stakeholders and operators, we build more predictability into the ATM ecosystem — improving collaboration and stakeholder situational awareness, which leads to more efficient airspace operations.”

In this new connected world of airspace management, ATM vendors such as Collins and Thales are making life easier for EUROCONTROL and other ATM operators by provisioning cutting-edge ATC solutions directly, rather than selling them as products to be implemented by their clients. “The service-based approach puts the responsibility of deploying and enhancing ATM system platforms on service providers, relieving ANSPs of the headaches in procuring, maintaining, and eventually running life-support on critical system architecture,” Hayman said. “Service providers are inherently experts at managing the entire life cycle of a solution, to include critical backend infrastructure, so that customers can simply utilize capability as a service.”

EUROCONTROL is spearheading the modernization of European airspace management through the implementation of Common Project 1 (CP1), the international effort to create an integrated, connected and efficient ATC system across the continent. “EUROCONTROL, as Network Manager, is one of the key players in the implementation of the CP1 Implementing Rule requirements,” said Bucuroiu. “A new Network Concept of Operations has been developed with all the operational stakeholders and it was adopted in 2022. New concepts of operations are developed at network level for the 4D Trajectory Management, Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management, Airspace Management and Data Management.”

In addition, EUROCONTROL has launched ‘Network Strategic Projects’ to foster Cooperative Traffic Management (covering air traffic flow and capacity management evolutions), Flight Plan and Flight Data Evolutions (covering the implementation of FF-ICE and future trajectory based operations), and advanced flexibility of airspace to further civil/military cooperation. Further such projects include Free Route Airspace (covering the implementation of new concepts for airspace design and utilization), Integration of New Entrants (covering the network introduction of commercial space operations, high altitude operations and drones) and Flight Efficiency Implementation (on sustainable evolutions of the airspace utilization).

“A major Airspace Restructuring Program aimed at implementing major airspace changes at the European level until 2030 has been also implemented and is progressing well,” said Bosman. “On the infrastructure side, initiatives have been taken on the implementation of Datalink, on CNS infrastructure resilience and sustainable evolutions, on the implementation of SWIM (system–wide information management) and on cyber security.”

The current edition of EUROCONTROL’s Network Operations Plan covering the period 2023-2027 also includes major ATM system upgrades intended to be implemented for 41 out of the continent’s 68 Area Control Centers. “This represents a vast modernization program at local level that will be synchronized as part of the cooperative work put together between EUROCONTROL as Network Manager and the Air Navigation Service providers,” Bucuroiu said. “These new ATM systems will provide for enhanced ATC support tools, enhanced decision-making tools, enhanced trajectory calculation, and better utilization of Datalink.”

Enhanced Communications is Central

When it comes to modernizing air traffic control, the driver behind enhanced connectivity is improved communications between aircraft and the ground, and each other. The more detailed, accurate and responsive that these communications are, the more that can be done to increase airspace capacity safely. This, above everything else, is what airspace management needs to accomplish — fitting more and more aircraft into the same limited space.

At EUROCONTROL, “the big push on the communications side concerns Datalink, which complements traditional voice messaging and improves the chances of instructions and acknowledgements being correctly transmitted and received,” said Bosman. “It can be thought of as a type of SMS between Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs) and pilots, specifically tailored to ATC needs with a limited word set. Datalink reduces workload, boosting safety, capacity, and efficiency.”

The inclusion of Datalink equipment on board aircraft operating in Europe’s airspace was mandated under a 2009 European Union law. “However, Datalink services have already evolved beyond that law’s scope, driven by more sensors becoming available on board aircraft,” he said. “Today, there is a concerted drive to automate European ATC — the Digital European Sky — to cope with significant increases in air-ground communications demands. Airlines’ operational communications (AOC) requirements are also growing relentlessly, as more aircraft data are streamed to airline operations centers and into ‘digital twins’. As both ATC and AOC services use the same Datalink technology, it is being pushed to its limits. At some point in the near future it will not cope, which is why the SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research 3 Joint Undertaking) FCI (Future Communications Infrastructure) project is now of vital importance.”

Airspace Mobility Solutions also sees “enhanced communications and connectivity as a key driver of digitalization in ATM,” said Binet. “They support sharing more data in real-time between the aircraft and ground systems in a safe and secure manner.” So does Collins Aerospace: “As we move to an info-centric airspace design, having a hyperconnected ATM ecosystem is critical,” Hayman said. “This requires having ubiquitous communications in place so that real time data sharing can happen with each stakeholder or operator in the airspace.”

A Big Payoff

EUROCONTROL and the European Union’s efforts to modernize ATC on that continent will be poised to deliver a big payoff in improved airspace capacity and safe management, “Timely implementation of all the initiatives described above, by 2030, the European ATM network should benefit from an increase of up to 50% of average sector throughput,” said Bosman. “This will have an immediate positive influence on the on-time performance of airspace users. In addition, from an environmental sustainability point of view compared to the start of this decade, the cumulative benefits of airspace improvements would represent savings of 1,000 million nautical miles flown, i.e., the equivalent of six million tons of fuel saved, or reduced emissions of 20 million tons.”

And there’s more. In a hyperconnected ATM environment, “ANSPs can expect to have greater control and predictability of traffic inbound, outbound and within their airspace, including for terminal areas and airports,” Binet said. “This means improved capacity of major airports, supporting increased air traffic movements with existing airports; greater sharing of real-time data between airlines, aircraft and ground systems for improved management of the flight from beginning to end; and improved safety with the inclusion of new conflict detection capabilities based on the increased sharing of aircraft data with ground systems.”

Right now, “it’s estimated that a lack of ATC Datalink capacity costs €1-1.3 billion ($1.09-1.41 billion) annually” in European airspace flight delays and related issues,” said Bosman. “The new technologies being considered under FCI would provide extra data capacity that would allow ATC to boost airspace capacity by 11%, enabling the introduction of four-dimensional trajectory management, further improving flight efficiency, and reducing fuel burn and greenhouse gas emissions per flight.”

To achieve this capacity increase, over 8,500 aircraft would have to have FCI equipment installed by 2029, if 2019-type traffic levels are reached in 2024. “This subset of the overall fleet represents the aircraft operating 85% of the flights above 28,500 feet — which is the threshold for benefits to kick in,” Bucuroiu said. “Retrofitting existing aircraft for FCI would accelerate the accrual of benefits and expand the overall benefit pool.”

EUROCONTROL is focused on improving communications with Datalink. It complements voice messaging and improve accuracy of instructions and acknowledgements. Datalink reduces workload, boosting safety, capacity and efficiency, EUROCONTROL says.
EUROCONTROL is focused on improving communications with Datalink. It complements voice messaging and improve accuracy of instructions and acknowledgements. Datalink reduces workload, boosting safety, capacity and efficiency, EUROCONTROL says.

Where We Stand Now

In a world short of good news, there is good news aplenty when it comes to airspace modernization.

“To date, a significant part of the benefits expected from the Airspace Restructuring Program has been already achieved, mainly through the implementation of the cross-border Free Route Airspace initiatives,” said Bosman. “The implementation of Datalink is also progressing very well with almost all ANSPs having implemented the required improvements and a gradual increased use in operations of Datalink, plus full implementation of SWIM requirements in the EUROCONTROL Network Manager systems. More and more aircraft are also being equipped with Datalink technologies, with over 80% of the aircraft already being Datalink-capable, and over 80% of them logged onto Datalink services.”

In a given four-week period, EUROCONTROL has been seeing almost three million Datalink transactions involving over 300 aircraft operators and 100 aircraft types. Such activity saves over 600,000 minutes of communications time, while also identifying over 100 ‘stuck microphone’ events, which is a very tangible safety benefit. Binet said that European airspace management is also seeing progress in “SESAR projects including Conflict Detection and Resolution, trials with Extended Projected Profile (EPP), and the TBO research in AIR Lab.”

This being said, obstacles remain in the path of European airspace management modernization. These include implementing true cross-border airspace structures and services; addressing current staff shortages; harmonizing operational procedures; ATM systems and ATCO licensing; and accelerating the overall digitalization of ATM overall.”

“ATM is, understandably, a rather conservative industry,” said Bosman. “Change happens rather slowly. It may take over 20 years for a fleet of aircraft to be renewed, with perhaps longer roll-over periods for ATC infrastructure. So, modernization is gradual and requires careful planning.”

Collins Aerospace believes that “culture and funding” are the biggest obstacles. “Sometimes decision makers are concerned about losing control,” Hayman observed. “But using a service-based business model simply means not owning the infrastructure or assets, you still have the capability or data to perform the ATM functions necessary for the mission.”

Nevertheless, airspace modernization coupled with improved communications connectivity offers immense value to commercial airlines and ATC operators in ensuring on-time operations while maintaining safety standards. By leveraging advanced technologies and data exchange capabilities, the limitations imposed by current airspace management regimes can be overcome — leading to a more efficient and connected aviation industry capable of supporting growth.

Singapore Airlines to Offer Free High-Speed In-Flight WI-FI With Panasonic Avionics

Panasonic Avionics Corporation (Panasonic Avionics), the world’s leading supplier of in-flight entertainment and communication systems (IFEC), has today announced that it will deliver unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi, powered to Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) customers, beginning 1st July 2023.

Panasonic Avionics’ in-flight connectivity services are powered by its global network of high-speed, high-bandwidth satellites. SIA’s in-flight connectivity experience will deliver a host of next-generation connectivity benefits,

John Wade, Vice President of Panasonic Avionics’ In-flight Connectivity Business Unit, said: “In-flight connectivity is paramount to airlines and their customers, and the expectation is that they get the same service in the air as they do on the ground. – everything from email, web browsing, and surfing social media.

“We are honored to be a part of Singapore Airlines’ vision to offer simply the best in-flight experience. This latest announcement is just the latest example of our mission to work with industry stakeholders to enable passengers to connect in flight easily and affordably.”

The announcement between Singapore Airlines and Panasonic Avionics comes at a strategic time as demand in both Wi-Fi and roaming services recovers from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Singapore Airlines has been recognized as a driving force in the recovery of air travel in Southeast Asian markets. This rapid air traffic recovery has been accompanied by an increasing demand for in-flight connectivity services in both roaming and Wi-Fi services, driving compelling retail propositions.

The enhanced Wi-Fi is expected to be made available virtually across SIA’s entire aircraft fleet across all cabin classes, and almost the entire global SIA route network. This new unlimited connected experience is being extended to all KrisFlyer members flying Economy and Premium Economy classes. Prior to this, unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi was only available to First and Business class customers as well as PPS Club members and PPS Club supplementary card holders, with Premium Economy and Economy passengers benefitting from three- and two-hours free Wi-Fi respectively.

To access the complimentary Wi-Fi, customers must register for SIA’s free KrisFlyer membership and insert their membership number in the booking. During the flight, customers can connect to the KrisWorld network and redeem the complimentary session in the in-flight Wi-Fi portal.

Viasat’s Proposed Acquisition of Inmarsat Receives U.S. FCC Approval

Viasat’s Proposed Acquisition of Inmarsat Receives U.S. FCC Approval

Global communications company Viasat Inc., and Inmarsat, a provider of global mobile satellite communications services, announced that Viasat’s proposed acquisition of Inmarsat has received unconditional approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC’s decision leaves the European Commission’s (EC) competition review as the key ongoing regulatory process in relation to the transaction.

The transaction is expected to close in late May, subject to required regulatory approvals, clearances and other customary closing conditions.