Virtual Centre

Our answer to the competing interests of ATM

Virtual Centre

Air Traffic Management (ATM) in Europe is at a crossroads – with increasing pressure to reduce costs and aviation’s environmental impact while increasing performance levels and giving due priority to safety.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the necessity to digitalise ATM in a way that allows Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) to adapt their capacity rapidly to changes in air traffic demand through an improved scalability and resilience. This is what Skyguide is already doing with its pioneering Virtual Centre programme.

Air traffic control systems across Europe have traditionally been developed by individual states based on their own requirements and political borders. This fragmentation makes ATM inflexible and inefficient. Even the small airspace above Switzerland is cut in two with each half being managed by its own air traffic service unit (Geneva and Dübendorf) based on separate and vertically integrated operational and technical set-ups. The challenge we address in Switzerland is a reflection of the challenges at European level.

The Virtual Centre programme is Skyguide’s answer to this outdated and inefficient European ATM set-up.

With the Virtual Centre programme, we will harmonise and modernise everything, from the technology on the ground to the operational procedures and the airspace design in the sky. This new set-up, based on a network-centric and service-oriented architecture, allows a pair of air traffic controllers to manage any sector of the upper airspace – either combined Swiss-wide or locally separate – from any physical working position in the Geneva and Zurich control centres, as if we had only one air traffic service unit.

This is what we call location independence.

The Virtual Centre translates into a number of benefits for us, for our clients, for the aviation industry and for society:

  • It allows us to react much more rapidly to increasing or decreasing traffic demand by adapting our capacity as needed
  • It thus makes ATM more efficient, resilient, scalable and less costly for airspace users
  • It contributes to limiting the environmental impact of aviation by enabling the optimisation of flight trajectories, which reduces CO2 emissions
  • It strengthens business continuity capabilities with greater operational resilience and cyber security
  • Last but not least, the technological harmonisation and modernisation fosters the continuous improvement of the safety of air traffic operations

The Virtual Centre programme is fully aligned with Europe’s ambition of a digital European sky. Skyguide is repeatedly rewarded as a European innovation leader and the Swiss approach is recognised as exemplary of how to move forward. Front-runner initiatives at national level demonstrate the feasibility of this new operating model and should encourage a joint effort towards a network-wide adoption. However, there is still a need now to incentivise early movers to make sure more players embark on this journey to build an economically and environmentally more efficient ATM in Europe.