Europe’s Sesar Program Remains a Research and Development Effort

 - March 4, 2013, 4:10 AM

The Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) effort, Europe’s equivalent of NextGen in the U.S., is making progress as a research and development program “but it is not yet a successful modernization program,” according to the man directing its development phase.

In a presentation at the inaugural World ATM Congress on February 12, Patrick Ky, executive director of the Sesar Joint Undertaking (SJU), said the program thus far has not bridged the gap from R&D to regular operations and has not proved the “business case” that aircraft operators need to justify investing in new technologies, training and procedures.

“We really think that we need to strengthen the link between research and development and implementation because at the end of the day, this is what will make the business case possible,” Ky said. “Doing R&D for the sake of R&D doesn’t interest anybody.”

The Brussels-based SJU is a public-private entity that was formed under European Union law in 2007 to shepherd the Sesar development phase. Ky, an engineer who headed the European Commission’s Sesar program and previously worked for the French civil aviation authority, was named SJU executive director in October that year. Since 2009, according to his presentation, the organization has invested €2.1 billion ($2.8 billion) in the development effort, which benefits from in-kind contributions by industry participants. This year is significant; it marks the transition year from the Sesar development phase to the deployment phase.

Technical Targets Reached

While Europe’s air navigation service providers came under fire at the Madrid conference for failing to integrate their operations and meet performance and cost efficiency targets, the Sesar R&D program that is spinning out enabling technologies for air traffic management (ATM) presented a positive case. Ky said the SJU has accomplished several technical targets; it validated initial 4-D trajectory flights; reached 15,000 “Sesar-labeled” flights with participating operators, driven by the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions; conducted validation exercises for the first “remote tower” in Sweden; and demonstrated ATM efficiency benefits between eight European city pairs. Eighty percent of Sesar projects have been tested in real-life environments.

Matthew Baldwin, European Commission director of air transport, said the commission as a founding member of the SJU (with Eurocontrol) will propose extending its mission to 2016. The EU executive body will also establish a “binding framework” to organize and execute the SJU’s work and identify common projects and incentives for operators to deploy essential ATM services. “We want to see some of the benefits which we have identified…come to life,” Baldwin said. “The magnitude of those benefits is extremely sensitive to the timeliness and effectiveness of implementation. Any delays, any hesitations in implementing Sesar will put those benefits at risk.”