IFATCA’s Vision for the Future of Air Traffic Management (ATM)

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IFATCA’s Vision for the Future of Air Traffic Management (ATM)

48TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 20-24 April 2009

WP No. 102

IFATCA’s Vision for the Future of Air Traffic Management (ATM)

Presented by the Executive Board


1.1 Creating an IFATCA vision of future ATM is an activity spanning several years. The background and progress was reported at last year’s conference. Conference accepted the Executive Board recommendation to continue work.


2.1  It was commented at last year’s conference that there is much work to be done on issues directly affecting controllers today. This was readily agreed – however without neglecting current needs it was noted that it is also necessary to have a vision. Without a vision of what is lying ahead we will be late to react to changes that are occurring.

2.2  In fact there are several reasons for having a vision. These include:

a) The need to have a vision that can be shared so that collaboration can occur;

b) To reach an understanding of what the future will be like (that is to promote awareness of trends) and so allow for preparation for those changes;

c) To explain to non-ATC what the ATM system will be expecting from them; and

d) To contribute towards cooperative and coordinated development rather than chaotic or short-term solutions.

2.3  The vision being created is for 25 years in the future. This is not to rigorously define what the system will be but rather to agree on the system functionality that will be needed. It is to enable the development of concepts of how this functionality will work and to guide work – especially in the technical area.

2.4  An important aspect of having a vision is so that IFATCA can work with others in the ATM industry and so influence the direction of future developments. Surprising as it may seem it is appropriate to consider what lies beyond NEXTGEN and SESAR (and even the ICAO Global ATM Operational Concept). This is because knowing what lies beyond NEXTGEN and SESAR will actually shape the developments of NEXTGEN and SESAR. These projects are not static but are evolving and so it is important that IFATCA seeks to ensure they evolve in the direction IFATCA wants.

2.5  The IFATCA Vision Document is therefore a long way into the future. The Vision Document should not contravene any existing IFATCA policy – however the Vision Document will help prioritise areas that IFATCA should conduct further work in, which may in turn lead to new or amended policy.

2.6  It is not intended that the IFATCA Vision Document be tied too closely to ICAO’s Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP) or its Global Plan Initiatives (GPI). This is because the Vision is for what follows these activities. The GANP and GPI relate more closely to what the IFATCA Statement on the Future of Global ATM (Future ATM Statement) refers to as “Shared Performance Plans”. In fact, the Future ATM Statement is the document that is in a similar timeframe as the GANP and perhaps it will reflect more of the ICAO GANP in future versions.

2.7  Attached are two appendices. The first is what was presented as the vision at last year’s conference. The second is a document prepared by Andrew Beadle to assist in considering what issues need to be considered as we seek to refine and use IFATCA’s vision document.

2.8  It is very important for IFATCA to ensure that it has the understanding and shared ownership of the vision from its members. The EB considers that the vision document will be used to set priorities within IFATCA and be used in IFATCA’s interactions and commitments with other organisations. Comments are therefore welcomed as to how best to achieve this ownership, as well as suggestions for improvements to the vision. Please note that there have been several attempts in the past, such as the Future ATM Task Force that has tried to progress this issue, and so perhaps an alternative approach is needed.

2.9  The proposed timetable for publication of IFATCA’s Vision to the public is around Air Traffic Controller Day 2009. Within IFATCA, explanations of the details of the Vision will be provided during the IFATCA Regional Meetings.

2.10  It is expected that the IFATCA Statement on Future of Global ATM will be updated after conference. This was distributed last year and is available on the IFATCA web site. Comments and suggestions for improvements to this document are also encouraged.


3.1  A vision document is necessary to assist in being prepared for future changes. It will be used to set priorities and to enable collaboration with other organisations.

3.2  It is essential for IFATCA to achieve consensus and ownership of the vision within IFATCA.

3.3  Comments on the Vision and Future ATM Statement are welcomed.

3.4  Public release of the IFATCA Vision is planned for Air Traffic Controller Day 2009.

Appendix 1 – IFATCA Vision 2035

– The whole ATM system will be performance based, and changes based on performance cases (which includes safety cases). This will result in an overall system that is effectively in continuous transition. Areas where high performance is required will be advancing to newer systems before areas with less performance needs have commenced initial transition. There will be a need for continuous performance improvements.

– A high level of automation will be required in meeting the highest ATM performance requirements. Controllers will be able to delegate tasks to automation, and in some systems the task will have been assigned to automation in the design of the system. This will include housekeeping tasks such as communication, coordination, surveillance, etc. In the more advanced systems it will also include delegating separation responsibility to automation. The controller will need to have a high confidence in the automation as it will not be physically possible for the controller to “double-check” what the automation is doing.

– Air Traffic control (reactive, tactical) will be replaced by Air Traffic Management (proactive, strategic). The controller will manage traffic flows and in the more advanced systems not separate anymore (the task will be delegated). Active intervention (tactical) will be the exception. The human will remain in the loop at the network (systemic) decision making level.

– Management by Trajectory will form the basis of all controllers’ activities. Trajectories will be as precise as traffic demands; that is variable over the length of the flight and in each of the four dimensions. For example, precision levels of time keeping of less than 10 seconds are expected where the ATM resource (for example runway) is in highest demand.

– Airspace will be dynamic (move around). Airspace boundaries will change to suit traffic flows, even in the terminal area. Airspace attributes will also change over the course of a day in response to ATM services needed (or not). Traditional distinctions between terminal and enroute will disappear. There may be more than one service provider for a given airspace block. Controllers may be responsible for a given set of aircraft as the set progresses (as opposed to all aircraft within an airspace block).

– UAV in non-segregated airspace.

– Local/Regional Implementations. The following list of changes will not be implemented globally by 2035 but it will be expected that there will be a number of such implementations around the globe.

  • Airports will be controlled from a remote facility (virtual towers).
  • Completely automated separation provision. In other words the separator is not the controller or the pilot but is in fact automation.

– Less controllers needed. This has been the universal claim of all “advances” in ATM, however because it has not been achieved in the past does not mean it cannot be achieved in the future. IFATCA needs to assess each claim on its merits and may well find that by 2035 there is a significant change in the number of controllers required.

Appendix 2 – Considerations for Progressing IFATCA Vision 2035

by Andrew Beadle

This is a collection of ideas to assist in the development and use of the IFATCA Vision 2035.

Key Statements

It is important to have short statements that aid recall of key aspects of the vision. Perhaps we need to develop something like Guiding Principles. The following are examples of what IFATCA could use:

  • Collaboration
    Collaboration is the most important requirement for improving efficiency in ATM.
  • Practical Vision
    We need a practical vision – not unrealistic hopes.
  • Global Solution
    IFALPA uses the slogan “one procedure, one way” (for any given function).
  • Capacity Depends on Other Airspace Users
    Capacity always depends on other airspace users’ activities, and also what procedures are applied.
  • Trajectories based on Trajectories
    Aircraft need to be able to base their trajectories on other aircraft trajectories.
  • Predict to Plan, Contract to Execute
    Prediction will still be necessary in planning activities, however contracted performance (such as precise time contracts) will be used to allocate ATM resources.
  • ATM Service Provision Requirements
    Performance-based ATM requires that ATM Service Providers have to meet specific standards and operating requirements before being permitted to provide a service.
  • Orchestrated and Choreographed ATM
    Future ATM will consist of both orchestrated ATM (controlled from one perspective) and increasingly choreographed ATM (which is collaborative in nature with multiple roles concurrently active).
  • ICAO’s role is forward compatibility
    ICAO must ensure that ATM improvements have global forward compatibility and extensibility. That is not to try to standardise what exists but rather set containment guidelines or rules.


This has already been stated in the IFATCA Statement on the Future of Global ATM.

Practical Vision

ATM does not exist on its own

  • It will be necessary to consider multi-modal solutions. For example to link resources in an area (for example surface transport linking several destination aerodromes in an area) or to replace high-density legs (for a current example Paris-Brussels by high speed train).
  • There will continue to be influences from outside ATM that affect ATM behaviour (or at least the selection of options).
    • Politics and political boundaries will continue to have consequences for ATM (but hopefully be better managed).
    • Issues such as health, financial and security events will affect aviation activity.
    • Environmental issues may be imposed beyond what was considered within the ATM community as acceptable environmental behaviour (for example restriction of operations). It is yet to be acknowledged that aviation is, in environmental terms, much less efficient than rail or ship transport (on a per unit basis use of fossil fuels, etc).

Within ATM diversity will continue

There will not only be one type of aircraft, or only one type of ATM. It will be a mixed environment for both ground and air components. There will be no end-state of uniformity. Change and more change is the standard order of business. What is needed is a way for this diversity to exist and operate as a safe, orderly, efficient, environmentally sustainable, etc. way.

Capacity depends on other airspace users

Capacity always depends on other airspace users’ activities. It is also a factor of what procedures are applied. In busy terminal environments often separation standards are small, procedures have been optimised within existing technological levels and so the capacity constraint is usually directly related to other airspace user activities. In other environments, it can be procedures that are the main determinate of capacity. For example due to large separation standards, ground service provider coordination requirements, fixed reservation of airspace, etc.

NEXTGEN and SESAR will change

There are currently two big projects, that is NextGen and SESAR. From a practical perspective we can be certain that in 25 years time, they will not have been implemented as they are currently planned. At the very least politics and financial issues will have had their influence. In addition with projects based on concepts that require research and validation, it will not be surprising to have modification of implementations.

“Whole-of-World” Solution

NEXTGEN and SESAR are regional solutions, and it is not correct to assume that a solution developed for any particular region is automatically applicable in other areas, for example by simply scaling the solution to fit. IFATCA needs to insist on a “whole-of-world” solution (following the ICAO Concept) that shows how NEXTGEN, SESAR and the rest of the world all fit together as a harmonised global ATM system. “Whole of world” is used instead of global as in some thinking global belongs to the winner of the race (global leader)!

Expectations must be expressed

In a collaborative environment it is essential that expectations be expressed. IFATCA must be ready to state what it expects.

Expectations of Aircraft Operations

Trajectory based on another trajectory

There needs to be the increasing ability for aircraft to manoeuvre (base their trajectory on) other aircraft trajectories in real time. This can be done by automation (FMS, etc.) or by pilot spacing or separation activities. If done by the pilot then it is likely that support systems will be required, such as cockpit display of traffic with tools to assist in the identification of targets and interaction with the display (for example measuring distance or time separation).

  • The limitation of today’s aircraft automation is that, while airline aircraft are highly capable and efficient systems, the design seems to be on optimising aircraft performance as if the aircraft is the only aircraft airborne.)

Precise Time Operations

The Performance Based Navigation Manual currently does not include a time element, and the rationale is that this is addressed by a longitudinal accuracy of position together with lateral accuracy (actually a radius). However the importance of time is actually for the future use of a resource (runway, airspace) at a precise future time. As the ATM system is not a closed system and is still affected by factors beyond human control (wind, thunderstorms, etc.) the aircraft not only has to precisely be somewhere, but also to make modifications so that an agreed future event (time and place) is achieved. This means that future events are contracted time events (rather than trying to predict only). In other words “predict to plan, contract to execute”.

“Low Level” Regulated Operations

Increasing environmental concerns will result in the need for very regulated activities, for example below 10,000 feet above ground level. This is because of low-level inefficiencies of jet engines (on ground and lower levels), noise issues, etc. Traditional ATC techniques of holding, path stretching or shortening, etc. will no longer be permitted in many cases, especially in areas of high traffic density and high human population densities. This means that runways sequences and associated arrival paths will be “locked-in” (agreed trajectory) prior to entry into the lower level airspace. Likewise, departures will have to be achieved at precise times to maximise runways capacity (where required). Auto-land and Auto-take-off will be common to achieve predictability of performance and minimisation of environmental impacts. (If not auto-land or auto-take-off then increased automation support for the pilot to achieve precise departure and arrival trajectories with minimal environmental impacts.)

  • Wind changes, missed approaches (and other uncontrollable or unintentional events) will have to have provision made in the ATM procedures and design.
  • ATC roles will be in establishing orderly flows, etc rather than tactical operations (that is vectors, speed control) that in effect manoeuvres each aircraft in relation to other aircraft and seeks to get aircraft to a future point at an expected time or in an expected sequence. This tactical role will be delegated to the aircraft (automation or pilot). This is one reason why an aircraft will need to be able to base its trajectory on another trajectory.

Note: The above applies to typical airliner traffic. There will continue to be a need for flexible low level operations; examples include helicopter operations for medical, police, news, etc., general aviation operations, unmanned operations, etc. Having a highly accurate and predictable path should improve access to airspace for other operations.

Diverse Types of Aircraft and Operations

Not just airline traffic but freight, military, general aviation, business, very light jet, unmanned aerial systems, etc.

Service Provision

ATM Service Provider Performance Requirements

There will be a significant shift in performance requirements from requiring the aircraft to perform to a particular level in order to receive an ATM service – to the ATM service provider having to perform to a particular level in order to be able to supply services to the performance ability of the aircraft. Services will be tailored to the varying performance abilities of the aircraft.

Note: This does not mean that the aircraft can be designed without taking into account consequence on other airspace users (that is aircraft’s effects on ATM). That is it will “cut both ways”.

ATM Service Delivery Management

This is an ICAO Concept component and relates to collaboration, determining separator, etc. It will ensure that services are available as required. IFATCA will need to consider how this component should function. (ICAO ATMRPP are working on this.)

Many Providers

There will be many service providers for ATM services. These will include service providers that were formerly public services, but there will also other suppliers too.

  • Low-cost service providers. These will be based on the “low cost” business model and created just for the purpose of a very defined service (and market) and provided with minimal resources.
  • Airline service providers. These will be suppliers of services for their own fleet. They are not necessarily supplying all services, but may do so in some cases.
    • Today there are examples of airline dispatchers working directly with ATM to select a reduced delayed departure route – and the pilot is told to contact their operating company to get their new flight planned route. There will be increasingly collaborative activities that will lead to airlines doing some services themselves.
  • Third-party service providers. There are already companies that exist to support airline operations (such as flight planning, aeronautical information, overfly approvals, etc) and so it is likely that companies will be established for ATM service provision too.

Orchestrated and Choreographed ATM

The terms “orchestration” and “choreography” have been borrowed from web-based services concepts. Charles Peltz in 2003 described orchestration as “the process controlled from the perspective of one of the business parties” and choreography as “more collaborative in nature, where each party involved in the process describes the part they plan in the interaction”. I consider that “orchestrated ATM” is more of today’s ATM where the process is controlled from the perspective of the controller. (Consider the conductor of an orchestra.) There will be a continuing need for such orchestrated ATM in some environments. An alternative is choreographed ATM which I understand is a set of rules of behaviour so that each actor knows their roles (and dancing partners) and so proceeds in an orderly manner but is managed by many rather than just one.

Note that it is important that IFATCA is able to communicate its message to a wide audience – not just ATM professionals. It will be necessary in my opinion to use concepts and terms such as orchestrated and choreographed ATM in order to communicate with some future ATM research personnel.


Separation (how close two aircraft can safely operate) is based on three items. Developments will mean that very small (by today’s standards) separation minima will be possible.

Physical Effects

Safe operation depends on the physical effects from another aircraft’s trajectory, most notably wake turbulence. This effect is quite localised and small displacements, for example up-wind or above, can avoid the turbulence. Either by basing a trajectory on another aircraft’s trajectory or by being able to display the wake turbulence (or both) the separation required due wake turbulence can be significantly reduced. Precise trajectories can also be used in some runway operations to mitigate wake turbulence.


Containment to an airspace volume to an acceptable level of accuracy will make it unlikely that two aircraft will occupy the same volume of airspace simultaneously. This was traditionally the largest separation standards – for example procedural separation minima or segregated airspace operations. Performance based navigation (especially when there is on-board monitoring) means that containment to an airspace volume (actually containment to a trajectory) can be surprisingly small, even in procedural environments. Segregated airspace will exist much less and instead there will be segregated trajectories.

Intervention Capability

This is the ability to determine that something is not going to happen as intended and still have the capability to detect and correct before safety is compromised. For some manoeuvres, if a pre- determined escape trajectory is known then the allowance for intervention capability can be quite small as it is detect and execute a predetermined trajectory rather than the additional requirements to determine a solution before execution. Of course the escape trajectory has to remain viable and so has to be monitored. If the intervention is delegated to the aircraft then quite small separation minima are possible as there are no communication delays, etc.

ICAO’s Role

Forward Compatibility

There are different opinions of what ICAO’s role should be. Some consider that ICAO should seek to standardise what is being developed (being a “fast-follower”). However this is not guiding future development. ICAO should act to ensure that there is “forward compatibility” – that is to ensure that it guides future development. ICAO did develop the global ATM concept before NEXTGEN and SESAR – but it needs to continue in a leading role.

Only global procedures

IFATCA should insist that there are only global ATM procedures. Regional and state specific procedures should be progressively phased out. This does not mean that there will be only one form of ATM. These procedures (or functions) can be combined in different ways for different needs and so there will be variety of forms of ATM service provision – however if there is something needed in any location it should not be addressed locally or even regionally but globally. That is define what procedure (or functionality) is needed at the global level through ICAO processes – even if initially it is only used in one location. If that same functionality is needed elsewhere then the global standard would be used (and not another regional or state based solution). To reuse an old phrase “think global, act local”.

Further Work

The above are examples of the way IFATCA could start documenting some of its future expectations. Airport Operations are a critical item that is missing from the above examples.

Examples of how to use the ICAO Concept Components and ICAO Key Performance Areas (including Safety) are in the IFATCA Statement on the Future of Global ATM. In the Statement they are “next step” examples, but longer term expectations could be developed.

Other important areas that IFATCA has worked on, such as the role of the human and automation, have already been incorporated into SESAR and MOSAIC documents and show the importance of IFATCA continuing to develop and communicate its vision and policies.

Suggested areas for further work (if a comprehensive approach is desired) include:

  • Human – recruitment, training, retention, just culture, etc.
  • Performance Management, including data collection and analysis.
  • Flow, sequencing and queue management.
  • Collaborative Decision Making expectations.
  • Network Management.
  • Standards and Regulations – purpose, ICAO’s role, non-ICAO standardisation bodies, etc.
  • ICAO Concept “other essential services” – Air defence and military, search and rescue, accident and incident investigation and law enforcement.
  • Information Management – System Wide Information Management, Aeronautical Information, meteorological information, etc.
  • Political and financing issues (expected trends considerations only).

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

April 14, 2020   281   Jean-Francois Lepage    2009    

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