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Ensuring the safety and security of aviation

| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( November 04, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) In a recent article, The Economist has commented that at the present time, while a car priced at $ 15,000 comes fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation as a standard feature, an aircraft which is priced at $ 150 million still has to navigated by spoken instructions relayed by a person on the ground with a radio in a control tower. The journal attributes this anomaly to air traffic management systems being stuck in the 1950s.

The two basic facts about air transport and air navigation is that safety and security are the critical factors. The air navigation system, whether considered globally or nationally, should cater to growing demands of air travel in an efficient, safe and secure manner. ( image courtesy: weeklytravel.asia)
Undoubtedly, this is a worrisome fact for States which are charged by the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) to provide inter alia, in their territories airports, radio services, meteorological services and other air navigation facilities to facilitate international air navigation, in accordance with standards and practices recommended or established from time to time pursuant to the Convention. At a time when technological progress in aeronautics is moving in leaps and bounds, it is certainly retrogressive to have the air traffic management system stuck in the 1950’s if aviation is to move into the 21st century.

The two basic facts about air transport and air navigation is that safety and security are the critical factors. The air navigation system, whether considered globally or nationally, should cater to growing demands of air travel in an efficient, safe and secure manner. In this context, there is one fact which stands out in any discussion on air navigation: that safety, efficiency and performance based navigation are the key words. Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) is a framework for defining navigation performance specifications for an aircraft along a route, during a procedure, or in airspace. These navigation performance specifications have been defined and have specific operational performance requirements. PBN provides a simple basis for the design and implementation of automated flight paths, as well as for airspace design, aircraft separation, and obstacle clearance. PBN comprises both Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP Two initiatives that serve as catalysts to these objectives are the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and the Single European Sky ATM Research Programme (SESAR).


NextGen, a United States initiative which conveys the basic message that mere lip service to existing principles of air navigation is not sufficient if the air navigation system currently in operation is to deliver a system that will transform values, technology and approaches that would ensure a healthy, environmentally friendly, globally interoperable air transportation system for the next 15 years. . The U.S. Congress established in 2003 the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) that was designed to define a national strategy for developing NextGen. The NextGen vision for 2025, which harmoniously blend the areas of efficiency in air transport that enables the safe, efficient and reliable movement of large numbers of people and goods throughout the air transportation system with national security objectives. The US NextGen vision is founded upon an underlying set of principles and enabled by a series of key capabilities that will free the U.S of many current system constraints, support a wider range of operations, and deliver an overall system capacity up to three times greater than that of current operating levels.

The customer, or user of air transportation is the central focus of NextGen. The fundamental purpose of NEXGEN is to serve as a system that veers from the traditional focus of air transportation from being a system that is unable due to its physical/technical infrastructure constraints and the limitations of the service providers, to graduating to a system that would serve the user more efficiently. NextGen is holistic in that it meshes the technological advances with management, governance and corporate foresight. Risk management is a key area of importance to NextGen. Under this system, risk assessments will commence prior to each flight, with a view to appropriately and precisely screening people and goods as they move from the terminal building to the aircraft, or as they work to support airport and aircraft operations.

In time, with the continued advancement of technology, screening will be unobtrusive and increasingly transparent to the individual. Security changes will be assessed in terms of impacts to, and effects from, other aspects of the system, such as safety, to ensure they are implemented in a complementary, synergistic way This overall application of risk assessment will particularly apply its prediction and risk evaluation approach that would enable integrated management of environmental performance to foster continued growth of aircraft operations in in a defined time span in the future with increasing scrutinization and evaluation of the environmental impacts of aviation. NextGen introduces a harmonization that would address the demands of both US carriers and non US carriers operating air services to the United States.

Some of the NextGen capabilities offered are network-enabled information access; performance-based services; layered, adaptive security; weather assimilated into decision- making; broad-area precision navigation; aircraft trajectory-based operations; equivalent visual operations; and super-density operations. The subject of data and data exchange in NextGen is all encompassing in that it involves flight plan information; pilot, passenger and cargo data; aircraft telemetry; surveillance information; weather data; etc. Information might be in the form of records, databases (i.e., pilot licenses or aircraft maintenance records), voice communications, images, etc. Information will be both “pushed” to known users and available to be “pulled” by other users including clients not previously identified as needing that data. Providers of the data will ensure appropriate information protection as necessary to address national defence, security, and privacy concerns.

NextGen will ensure that the busiest airspace will have the highest air traffic service level – thus requiring the highest level of user avionics performance. Implementation of Performance-Based Services will enable a more cost-effective service provider maintenance framework and will encourage private sector innovation. Clearly defined service tiers will allow the service provider to create service guarantees for given performance levels so that users can determine appropriate investments to meet their needs.


As its title denotes, SESAR is a European initiative designed to modernize the European air traffic system. The objectives of SESAR (which came into being with a European Council statement of 9 June 2006 on the proposal for a Council Regulation on the establishment of a Joint Undertaking to develop the new-generation European air traffic management system) are to eliminate the fragmented approach to air traffic management (ATM) in Europe, bearing in mind that the traffic growth would double in 2030 which would necessitate that this growth is achieved through significant performance enhancement. SESAR aims at transforming the European ATM system, through the synchronization of the plans and actions of the different partners and federate resources. The concept that would use SESAR as its tool is the single European Sky. The European air traffic management system currently handles around 26,000 flights daily. Forecasts indicate air traffic levels are likely to double by 2020. Europe was faced with the initial question of how will the European airspace accommodate the increasing air traffic flows, whilst cutting costs and improving its performance?

In response the European Union took the initiative of organizing airspace into functional blocks, according to traffic flows rather than to national borders. Such a project was not possible without common rules and procedures at European level. The Single European Sky (SES) was born to meet this need. The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) and its partners are contributing extensively to the development of new technologies and procedures that will deliver the air traffic management performance required for the 21st century and beyond. EUROCONTROL believes that SESAR is the answer to this issue. For the first time in European ATM history, an ATM improvement programme is involving the Aviation Players (civil and military, legislators, industry, operators, users, ground and airborne) for defining, committing to and implementing a pan-European programme, and to support the Single European Sky legislation.

SESAR has three phases. The first phase, called the definition phase, ended in 2008 (2006-2008) , and delivered an ATM master plan defining the content, the development and deployment plans of the next generation of ATM systems. This definition phase was led by EUROCONTROL, and co-funded by the European Commission under the Trans-European Network Transport Programme. Work was executed by a consortium comprising representatives of all air transport stakeholders. Whilst most of the consortium members were European Organizations, the consortium was also opened to non European actors.


The main issue that has to be resolved in employing NextGen and SESAR as tools for the future development of aviation is that States should arrive at agreement on global standards. The second is to have a viable charges policy that would pay for the two systems. On the latter, there would need to be a second look at global charges policies. The first issue in this context is that, according to ICAO policy, four elements are critical for prudent charges policy: non discrimination (as enshrined in Article 15 of the Chicago Convention); transparency; cost relatedness; and consultation. The first two elements are self explanatory. However, cost relatedness and consultation are open to interpretation. One could argue that cost related charges need not necessarily be restricted to actual costs but could be geared to earn profits for the service provider as long as such costs are calculated in relation to the cost of services provided. With regard to consultation, there have been instances where the service provider has met with users and other stakeholders and merely informed them that certain charges were to be increased.

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