Airline expectations

We now have the technology available to refocus the air traffic management system around the needs of passengers, according to Eric Nantier, Senior Director, OPS Optimisation and Development, SWISS International Air Lines Ltd. But before we can achieve this we will have to ensure all the relevant stakeholders are digitally connected and share the same business objectives.

SKYGUIDE : What are the main operational challenges at the SWISS’s transfer hubs?
Both Zurich and Geneva airports and their associated terminal manoeuvring area (TMA) airspaces have in the past reached the limit of their capacity, leading to missed connections and late evening departures – inconveniencing our passengers and airport neighbours.



Do we have the technology to meet this challenge?
EN There has been an important evolution in technology over the last few years. Working with partners – notably Skyguide, Zurich Airport and Eurocontrol – we have already demonstrated progress in this area. For example, the “Greener Wave” and iStream projects, supported by the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU), have given us the ability to precisely manage our intercontinental flights, reducing holding times by more than 96% in the morning wave and generating important environmental savings.



We have also improved our European early morning connections by setting flight priorities for arrivals, making it easier for our passengers to transfer between flights and reducing the workload of ground agents. Our operations controllers can now be far more proactive in managing departing and arriving flights.


What is SWISS doing to improve its passenger transfer operation?
EN SWISS is using extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence decision-support tools to plan our flight schedules up to 48 hours in advance, analysing the impact of weather on movements, for example, identifying potential delays and developing mitigation measures. At the start of 2020 we began to integrate historic and real-time data on weather, passengers, aircraft, crew, maintenance and runway operations. With this data our network operations controllers can develop more precise plans but the amount of data is increasing constantly and we need to develop new dynamic methodologies to exploit it.



What role does air traffic management play in improving the operations further?
EN The European Union has set a target to allow passengers to travel door-to-door within four hours on the European continent. To achieve this, we will have to improve our connecting performance and move away from the current “first come first served” aircraft-based protocols – which generate too many en-route and arrival delays – to prioritising the most critical flights based on the needs of passengers. We have to understand the priorities of each of our passengers, so airlines, pilots, controllers and ground personnel can together frame the operation around them. If Air Traffic Controllers are empowered with the final decision, the system in use should deliver them the flight prioritisation, allowing them to understand the consequences of their decisions on the needs of passengers, the overall network, and the environment.


I am convinced that a better coordination between SWISS, Skyguide, Zurich Airport and associated partners in collaboration with Eurocontrol could eliminate a large part of the current bottlenecks and reduce unnecessary aircraft movements, thereby improving the overall impact of aviation on the environment and giving a better quality of life to people living near the airport. This starts by developing a new way of prioritising flights and ensuring the controllers understand the pilot’s operational strategy.



How close are we towards developing such a system?
EN Last year we began work on associated proof-of concept research projects such as First Rotations Operational Trial (FROT) and Strategic Slot Swap, to demonstrate the benefits that this passenger centric approach will bring to our operations. We demonstrated the use of the User-Driven Prioritisation Process (UDPP) and iStream within a very large-scale demonstration, which produced excellent results. I am convinced that further collaboration with different airports and Eurocontrol will allow us to extend these results and offer airport users, passengers and residents real benefits in the next few years. The Memorandum of Understanding we signed earlier this year will lead to an exchange of business-to-business data between SWISS, Zurich Airport and Skyguide, an area where we have helped lead pioneering research within the SESAR JU with air navigation service providers and Eurocontrol.


We are currently experiencing an information technology revolution, and it is of utmost importance to understand that the first priority is to develop new tools, that give the right data, at the right time, to the right people. Until now, the objective has been to optimise the flow of aircraft but in future it will be more important to manage the needs of passengers. After all, we don’t just fly aircraft, we move passengers.