China Improves ATM With Help From Partners

 - April 10, 2014, 1:30 PM
Preparing for expected traffic growth in the region, representatives of Airbus and the CAAC’s Air Traffic Management Bureau last year signed an agreement to cooperate on modernizing China’s ATM system.

The rapid growth of China’s civil aviation sector has made air traffic management (ATM) efficiencies all the more important as the country strives to keep up with the demand for air travel.

From 2005 to 2010, China invested 250 billion yuan ($41 billion) on civil aviation infrastructure, about the total amount it had spent in the previous 25 years, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

As of 2010, there were 175 “transport airports,” including 16 with more than 10 million passengers, and 268 million total annual passengers. The agency managed six million takeoffs and landings. Last year, the CAAC reported that China had 193 civil airports, including 24 with more than 10 million passengers. Passenger traffic increased to 354 million.

In its 12th five-year plan, issued in April 2011 and covering the period through 2015, the CAAC forecast 230 airports, 450 million passengers and 10.4 million takeoffs and landings. It expected the size of the GA fleet to expand rapidly. Having doubled between 2005 to 2010 to just over 1,000 aircraft, the fleet is forecast to double again to more than 2,000 aircraft by 2015.

Squeeze on Capacity

China’s ambitious civil aviation growth plans are capacity-constrained, however. The CAAC notes that the country has insufficient available airspace, particularly on major routes and at large airports. The aviation infrastructure is inadequate to support the growth in operations. The capacity of large airports must be increased, and the capability of ATM facilities improved.

Beijing Capital Airport, the main airport serving Beijing, ended 2012 as the world’s second busiest airport by total passenger movements after Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, according to the CAPA Center for Aviation. The next busiest airports in China are Guangzhou, Shanghai Pudong, Shanghai Hongqiao, Chengdu and Shenzhen, said CAPA.

Under the latest five-year plan, the CAAC said China’s ATC system would be centralized, with responsibility for eight high-altitude control regions–Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Chengdu, Shengyang, Urumqi and Sanya–and 27 middle- and low-airspace control regions. Airports with more than 100 daily flights will be classified as approach control regions. Civil and military air traffic management will be coordinated, and weather and information services are to be improved, according to the CAAC.

“The air management automation system will be updated and enlarged,” states a copy of the plan. “There will be more system interconnection between high air management centers, middle- and low-air[space] management centers and terminal control centers.”

In the plan, the CAAC promises to promote the GA segment. “We shall…enlarge [the] new business scope…to meet diversified needs of the market,” including the requirements of commuter, business, sightseeing and private aviation, the agency states. It will be the “perfect the environment for market operation, support and lead the development of general aviation enterprises and form [a] fee management system led by the market, which shall be advantageous for the development of general aviation.” Specifically, the CAAC said it will “nurture” three to five leading GA companies.

Foreign Partners

China is taking on the challenge of improving and expanding its aviation system through its own resources and with help from foreign partners. Incorporating ATM approaches is an important part of the strategy.

In 2008, the CAAC and its Air Traffic Management Bureau (ATMB) installed the first of four ground stations to support automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) tracking of aircraft in the Sanya flight information region. The agency had installed eight total ADS-B ground stations by the end of 2012, and plans call for installing more than 200 stations nationwide “as the first phase,” the CAAC reported last October in an ADS-B working group paper for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

In October 2009, the CAAC issued a Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) Implementation Roadmap outlining targets for integrating PBN–which includes required navigation performance (RNP) and area navigation flight routes–with communication, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) systems by 2025. The end state calls for PBN operations in all flight phases.

The CAAC selected GE Aviation (Booth H118) to implement an RNP program at Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport in Sichuan province in 2011. The U.S. company, which has worked with Chinese airlines to design RNP flight paths since 2004, said the effort represented China’s first airport-sponsored RNP program. It called for GE to design precise approach and departure flight paths and vertical guidance for each of eight RNP-capable airlines that operate to Jiuzhai. GE supported RNP operations approval for the two launch carriers: Air China and China Eastern.

The EU-China Civil Aviation Project (EUCCAP) technical assistance and cooperation program started in October 2010 and will conclude this October. It is a three-year, €3.7 million effort funded by the People’s Republic of China commerce ministry, the CAAC and the European Union. Its aim is to help China build its aviation capacity by providing assistance and training in areas including airworthiness standards, rulemaking, aircraft incident/accident investigation, GA and ATM.

“Beyond October 2014, there is a strong willingness from European industry players to continue synergies with China’s aviation industry, and this might be facilitated by the EU,” stated a July 2013 article in EURObiz, the journal of the EU chamber of commerce in China. “Although it is not yet clear what form any prospective cooperation may take, what is apparent is that the EUCCAP has laid strong foundations for any future cooperation.”

Last September, the ATMB and Airbus’s ATM subsidiary Airbus ProSky signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on modernizing China’s ATM system. The agreement called for starting four projects right away: to develop air traffic flow management (ATFM) and airport collaborative decisionmaking (A-CDM) procedures, to design RNP authorization required (RNP AR) flight paths at Chengdu Airport and to improve instrument landing system performance at Beijing Capital Airport.

“The four projects we have launched now pave the way for a broader cooperation between us and Airbus in the future,” said Wang Liya, ATMB director general. “The implementation of new ATM technologies is the key driver for the modernization of the ATM system in China. The cooperation will help us draw on the experience of other regions to develop our future ATM systems, which will be more integrated with global systems.”