Aviation System Blocks To Improve Air Traffic Management

 - November 1, 2011, 3:50 PM

In preparation for its 12th Air Navigation Conference (ANC) this month, ICAO has proposed that to ensure international compatibility and performance improvements, individual member states base their future air traffic management (ATM) systems on a phased program of common aviation system block upgrades, implemented over consecutive five-year periods. ICAO estimated that the necessary transformation of the world’s air transportation system would cost $120 billion over the next 10 years, and felt it essential that such an investment be made in accordance with the most effective guidelines available. The organization views the airspace block concept–discussed at a Global Air Navigation Symposium at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters in September–as the most efficient way of defining the steps required to achieve standardized world ATM performance.

The blocks were developed over many months of consultations across a multinational expert technical team drawn primarily from operational providers and users–including IBAC–whose recommendations will be submitted, after industry review, to next year’s ANC. Currently, the recommendations are based to a large extent on operational concepts generally similar to those being implemented or planned for the FAA’s NextGen, Europe’s Sesar and Japan’s Collaborative Actions for Renovation of Air Traffic Systems (Carats), each of which is being developed with an emphasis on compatibility with future international systems.

At the symposium, members of the technical team briefed state representatives to ICAO and industry officials on the aviation system block concept, and invited comments and proposals that could amend or modify the team’s recommendations. (Note that the aviation system blocks discussed at the briefing were aimed at providing upgraded guidance to individual nations. These blocks are different from Eurocontrol’s functional airspace blocks [FABs], which group countries in similar regions e.g., Scandinavia, to provide integrated ATM services.)

The upgrade blocks list a variety of capabilities that individual nations are recommended, rather than mandated, to have available–a key qualifier–over four consecutive five-year periods, as follows:

Block 0–available now

Block 1–available from 2018

Block 2–available from 2023

Block 3–available from 2028

Each block covers more advanced applications than the previous block, thereby progressively building each nation’s ATM capabilities. Within each block are a number of modules containing specific applications, such as, in Block 1, airport collaborative decision-making (A-CDM), arrival and departure management (A-DMAN), optimum profile descents (OPD), system wide information management (Swim) and even an ominous looking FF-ICE, that turned out to stand for flight and flow information for the collaborative environment. ICAO is second only to the military in creating acronyms.

ICAO recognizes that not all module solutions are required in all airspaces, but points out that each individual module has the essential qualities of:

• A clearly defined measurable operational improvement and success metric;

• Necessary equipment and/or systems in aircraft and on ground along with an operational approval or certification plan;

• Standards and procedures for both airborne and ground systems; and

• A positive business case over a clearly defined period of time.

In its proposed form, the concept probably represents the ideal way to move ahead, but questions from the floor suggested that it was nevertheless somewhat unrealistic in its expectations, particularly with respect to underdeveloped nations with more pressing priorities. In the months leading up to November 2012, it seems likely that a number of changes could be made to the plan’s details, although most attendees clearly felt that its overall intent and direction should receive ANC approval.

A comprehensive description of the four airspace upgrade blocks and their modules is available at http://www2.icao.int/en/GANIS/Documents/GANIS%20Working%20Document%20v1.pdf.