The aviation world is undergoing major change. Digitalisation continues apace. Tomorrow’s air navigation services will be standardised, highly automated and free of any particular geographical location. The pioneering Virtual Centre project, which is the centrepiece of skyguide’s innovation strategy, is leading the way.
Classic air traffic management must continue to evolve, away from fragmented airspace and systems and towards location-independent operations. This is eminently feasible in technological terms, as skyguide is demonstrating in developing its Virtual Centre programme – a virtual merging of air traffic management units under the responsibility of one or more air navigation service providers which can operate from any of a number of locations using totally standardised operating methods, data, procedures and technical facilities. The Virtual Centre model permits a virtual amalgamation of control centres, which offers major advantages in terms of operational flexibility, service continuity and cost efficiency.
Skyguide made progress in bringing greater flexibility to its technological platform here in 2019. Further functionalities were migrated from the two existing (old) systems in Geneva and Dübendorf to the new and open Dübendorf systems architecture. The new operating concept should permit the management and monitoring of all flights throughout Switzerland (and not just those within the sectoral responsibility of each area control centre). Skyguide now aims to prepare the second – technical – phase here by 2021, to create the technical landscape needed to maintain all its operations flexibly and independently of geographical location from a single data centre.
By 2024 at the latest, skyguide plans to manage all of Swiss airspace as a unified airspace entity. This will enable Switzerland’s air navigation service provider to operate more flexibly and far more efficiently within Europe’s air traffic management network.
The Advanced Runway Safety Improvement (ARSI) project was successfully concluded in summer 2019. The new system, which has attracted international attention, enhances safety at Zurich Airport. ARSI monitors the work of skyguide’s air traffic controllers in real time, and flags any conflicting instructions. Skyguide and its development partner were presented with the Jane‘s ATC Award at the 2019 World ATM Congress in Madrid for this innovative safety system.
According to current estimates, there are now over 100 000 drones active in Switzerland, and the number is still rising rapidly. The vehicles are used in various areas including transport, surveying, inspecting, maintenance, agriculture, film production and photography. They could even be used to transport people in future, too: a pilot project for this is already under way in Canton Geneva.
Skyguide was swift to take advantage of drones and their benefits. Drones have been used to service and calibrate the instrument landing systems (ILS) at Zurich and Geneva airports since January 2018. Prior to this, such flights had to be performed with a specially-equipped aircraft which was flown in from Germany. The use of drones instead has also halved the number of calibration flights required, with positive repercussions in fuel consumption and carbon emission terms. The associated noise emissions, too, have been substantially reduced.
The drone market is a growth area, and offers sizeable further potential. But the increasing numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles using Swiss airspace bring new challenges, too. Airspace is a finite resource. And these new airspace users must be safely integrated into the existing airspace traffic.
In response to this challenge, skyguide in collaboration with its technology partner has developed U-Space, a platform for managing drones’ airspace use. The platform, which is unique in Europe, provides a fully-automated approval process that allows drone operators to register their planned drone flights simply and conveniently online. A trial phase of such automated flight approvals was conducted in Geneva and Lugano in March 2019, and enabled skyguide to acquire valuable user feedback.
The technology for the platform’s basic registration, identification, geo-awareness and flight approval functions has been available since the end of 2019. Certain issues still need to be resolved, however – on regulating such operations in mixed-use airspace and on the financing front – before the platform is released for general use.