An Airspace Architecture Study, ordered in 2017 by the European Commission, following a decision of the European Parliament, was carried out by SESAR Joint Undertaking (JU) and published at the end of 2018. According to Florian Guillermet, SESAR JU’s Executive Director, the study concludes that in order to deliver better performances in Air Traffic Management (ATM), virtualisation and new technologies have to supplement the existing physical infrastructure.

SKYGUIDE : You were responsible for the European Airspace Architecture Study. Could you tell our readers what the Study deals with and why it was performed?
FLORIAN GUILLERMET The Study addresses the inefficient use of European airspace as well as diverging national practices, which result in longer flight times, delays, extra fuel burn, and higher levels of CO2 emissions. It asks whether technology can help to deliver better performance in air traffic management. The answer is Yes, as our research in the SESAR Joint Undertaking has shown. Essentially, we have a performance-driven approach, and although we have technology enablers that make sense in relation to performance, there is still no “glue” holding the two together in terms of how the system will operate during the transition.


What kind of technology does the study propose to address the increasing airspace congestion and its impact?

FG The Study recommends a service-based approach to managing European airspace that is interoperable and cooperative. Sovereignty over data, rather than over airspace or borders, will become more and more crucial. We propose to move away from the geographical connection between airspace and air service provision towards virtualization, with a greater reliance on data and information exchange. In 10 years from now, we could potentially manage any portion of airspace from any location. Building on this capability, the study proposes an increasingly dynamic and resilient approach to airspace management and an evolution of the service delivery model. Our study sets out a three five-year-phase roadmap with the required building blocks to achieve this by 203


Where do the various ANSPs in Europe currently stand?

FG There are examples of ANSPs moving in this direction, either on a bilateral basis or within the framework of the same ANSP. Skyguide is playing a leading role in advancing the concept of virtualisation. In the future, controller training and licensing could be progressively based on traffic complexity, rather than sector-specific factors. This would enable ANSPs to deploy ATCOs more flexibly, depending on the volume and flow of traffic. Such initiatives already exist today, and need to be gradually scaled up at network level.


Which system and airspace architecture should we choose?

FG Rather than systems, we need to think about data, gathering information on the density of traffic, making sure that aircraft are operating along the right trajectories, and ensuring good communication with aircraft. The study proposes an evolution of the airspace architecture that would leverage modern technologies to decouple service provision from the local infrastructure in a single European airspace system. At the same time, the level of collaboration and automation achieved via a data-rich and cyber-secured connected ecosystem would progressively increase. Basically, we have to be more agile and dynamic, and we need to implement a high degree of virtualisation.


Have any decisions concerning these proposals already been taken?

FG The European Commission has asked us to draw up a proposal for a transition plan. As announced at the high-level event on “digital sky” in September, the Commission has begun to work on the elements necessary for implementation, such as the financial modules, the liability issue, and certification. However, nothing should prevent ANSPs from developing in this direction and taking the first steps from a technological standpoint.


What should these first steps be?
FG The first steps should be the implementation of virtualisation techniques and the conversion of the system to a service architecture. Joint data services or airspace management in cooperation with your neighbours would also be helpful. If ANSPs don’t move in this direction, it is impossible to establish closer relations and manage airspace more flexibly. With the progressive increase in automation support, ATCO training would gradually shift from knowing all the routes by heart to the management of systems and data.


What are the main challenges of such an endeavour?

FG The development of aircraft has accelerated rapidly and taken on a new dimension as a result of the intensifying environmental debate. Fleets are being modernised more rapidly, but ATM has not developed at the same speed. The emergence of drone-related services is also prompting a surge of innovation in air traffic manage ment. These disruptive technologies are forcing a change in mindset in our industry in order to remain relevant.