Report lays foundation for future ATM system

 - July 30, 2008, 7:22 AM

Boeing’s air traffic management (ATM) division has issued its third and final report on future high-level needs for the world’s ATM environment. The document, “Working together to define the future global ATM system,” represents a broad consensus of views of aviation experts from the U.S., Europe and the Far East, who were brought together as three separate teams by Boeing to analyze system needs in 2020 and recommend essential ATM “cornerstones” for the future.

The year 2020 was chosen because traffic forecasts suggest that, by that date, air travel will double in the U.S. and Europe and will triple in the Far East. Clearly, today’s system could not carry that load, but the report emphasizes that improvements to the system must not proceed in isolation, region by region. The key word is interoperability of both aircraft and regional control and monitoring systems to produce the seamless airspace of the future.

Boeing took the initiative, although it was not an entirely altruistic move. To any aircraft manufacturer, clogged airports and overcrowded skies mean reduced sales. On the other hand, someone had to do it and, in the absence of proactive steps by others, Boeing stepped up to bat. And, to the company’s credit, none of the three reports mentions the ambitious worldwide ATM technical proposal that Boeing announced in 2001.

Team meetings were held in October, November and January, with each team representing a cross section of the aviation community in their respective regions. The teams included ICAO, ATC service providers, airport authorities, aircraft operators, equipment suppliers and professional organizations. Business aviation was represented by NBAA on the U.S. team, the European Business Aviation Association on the European team and the Japan Business Aviation Association on the Far East team.

The teams used the term “cornerstones” in preference to stating requirements, since the latter would imply setting standards for a period in the future where technology advances could make them either inapplicable or inadequate. Also, and with just one exception, the document avoids discussing technical issues and instead describes fundamental concepts, such as the desirability of 4-D trajectory flight; the elimination of fixed routes outside terminal areas; the aim of bringing VFR reliability to IFR operations; the transition to pilot self-separation; the exclusion of less well equipped aircraft from certain airspace; and so on. The exception came in the statement that “GPS was singled out as a critical risk if its signals were to be tampered with.”

Predictably, several of the 25 cornerstones reflect the important–but less cutting edge–issues of security, service quality, human performance and the environment. Yet without recognizing these self-evident objectives, the report would not be complete.

Weighing in at 115 pages–including diagrams, tables and statistics–and available at www.boeing. com/atm/pdf/wtt_global.pdf, the report’s publication is perhaps not quite, as Boeing describes it, “a momentous occasion in the world of aviation.” But it is certainly recommended reading, in clearly underscoring the ATM challenges that the industry faces and making plain the fact that we have little time to lose in meeting them.