Singapore Air Show

Single Asian Sky needed now to thwart transport bottleneck

 - February 2, 2010, 11:37 PM

Asia desperately needs political consensus and a framework on how to move forward with air traffic management (ATM) as the U.S. and Europe forge ahead with their respective NextGen and Sesar programs. If such a consensus is forthcoming then the Asia-Pacific region could quickly jump ahead by skipping a generation of technology. But if it does not happen, it could become a global air transport bottleneck.

This was the clear message from an open-panel discussion hosted by ITT Corp. at the Singapore Airshow yesterday. Opening the discussion, Marion Blakey, former U.S. FAA Administrator and current president of the Aerospace Industries Association, said ATC modernization ultimately has to have a global, standardized approach. She added that key enabling technologies, such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), could allow developing countries “to go straight from movie theatres to DVD without needing VHS and Betamax.”

John Kefaliotis, vice president of next-generation transportation systems with ITT and program director for the NextGen system, said ADS-B is the “enabler of ATC procedures that will increase efficiency and situational awareness.” This is in effect what Australia has done, so it now leads the world, having made its ADS-B network go live just two months ago.

Single Asian Sky

“The Asia Pacific needs a framework, and we believe it will come from ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations],” said Ken McLean, IATA director of safety, operations and infrastructure for the Asia Pacific.

McLean, who managed Australia’s implementation of its ADS-B network, added, “[Australia is] building a four-lane highway to a one-lane bridge. In Europe they’re building a six-lane highway to a one-lane bridge.”

Ng Tee Chiou, director of the air traffic services division with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, suggested that Asia might find it harder to achieve harmonization and modernization of its airspace. “The Asia-Pacific [region] is diverse geographically and, unlike Europe and the U.S., has no central ATC organization,” he said.

However, it does have the Asia-Pacific Air Navigation Planning and Implementation Regional Group under the auspices of ICAO, which held its 20th meeting last September. This group has outlined a long list of recommendations.

“If nothing is done, delays will grow,” warned Chiou. “We can hope for a ‘big-bang’ approach but it probably won’t happen. But in the Asia Pacific we are extremely excited by NextGen and Sesar and we are looking for the ‘Killer Apps Applications].’ We know they’ll come.”

There are, however, some initiatives under way already, said Chiou, such as the Bay of Bengal Cooperative ATFM System (Bobcat), which aims to reduce delays on flights from Southeast Asia to Europe.

“ICAO is working at the state level but in [IATA’s] view what’s missing is the political framework,” commented McLean. “Everyone agrees that we need a Single Asian Sky but there is no consensus yet on how to do it. In the meantime, airlines are paying twice: [first] fitting new equipment and then for the inefficiency because it can’t be enabled.”

Blakey said Asian nations could learn from the equipage issues in the U.S., with NextGen being a less aggressive timetable than Sesar because the U.S. has not mandated or financially supported the retrofit of the required avionics systems by aircraft operators.

NextGen will have initial capability in 2013 but it will be seven years before all aircraft have to meet the requirements, which is five years after Europe’s first equipment deadline.