Belgium Moves Towards Single Civil-military ATM System

 - July 5, 2019, 9:29 AM

As part of a longer-term goal to move toward integrated civil-military air navigation services in Belgian airspace, one of the densest and most complex in Europe, the military air traffic controllers of the Belgian Ministry of Defence (BeMoD) are preparing to migrate to a shared civil-military air traffic management system provided by Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Center (MUAC).

MUAC and BeMoD successfully carried out site acceptance testing and corroborated that the system can provide air traffic control services at the various military sites as well as for civil air traffic in various locations. They conducted the series of technical tests mainly at night to minimize the effect on MUAC operations.

Currently, three organizations provide air traffic control services in the airspace of Belgium: BeMoD controls the military operational air traffic; MUAC handles civil general air traffic (GAT) in upper airspace (from 24,500 feet) of Belgium; and the country’s air navigation service provider (ANSP) Skeyes controls civil GAT in lower airspace. Each of them uses different air traffic management systems. In November last year, the three organizations agreed to study the move toward a single technical solution. A shared civil-military air traffic management system, they reasoned, would better cope with capacity and cost-efficiency challenges in Belgian airspace. It would also support the deployment of an efficient and effective external contingency solution in the event of a failure of one of the facilities providing technical services.

A MUAC spokeswoman told AIN that the Shared ATS System (SAS) concept for civil and military cooperation has already worked “very well” in the Netherlands. Since October 2013, the Royal Netherlands Air Force bases and all sectors—en route, approach, and tower—operated the SAS, which was also used by MUAC for civil air traffic in the upper airspace of the Benelux countries and the northwest of Germany. Meanwhile, in 2017, civil and military air navigation services in the upper airspace of the Netherlands and the northwest of Germany integrated with MUAC—making it the first civil-military cross border air navigation service provider in Europe.

Over the last two years, the SAS concept has undergone further development, and more specific functionalities required for military air traffic control have integrated into MUAC's system. Authorities have scheduled the cut-over to this upgraded SAS2 by the Belgian military air traffic controllers for early December. In the coming months, the military air traffic controllers and technicians who will use and monitor the new system will receive intensive training, and the integration of the systems will be fine-tuned. The SAS2 system will initially support limited military air traffic control operations starting in December 2019 and all military air traffic control by March 2020.

As part of the three-way agreement, the military air traffic control center from Semmerzake will move into the Skeyes site near Brussels Airport in December. In addition, BeMoD, MUAC, and Skeyes are assessing the feasibility of implementing the Shared ATS System concept at Skeyes—SAS3—by 2025.

The project of shared ATM data services provided by one air navigation service provider for the benefit of another in the core area of Europe is part of the Single European Sky to further align air traffic management and alleviate the de-fragmentation of the European network.