Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE)

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Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE)

54TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Sofia, Bulgaria, 20-24 April 2015

WP No. 86

Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE)

Presented by TOC


This information paper summarises Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE). FF-ICE is a replacement to the existing ICAO flight planning system. FF-ICE is currently under development and proposed for implementation between 2018 and 2028.


1.1 Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE) is the term adopted by ICAO to describe the replacement to the existing ICAO flight planning system.

1.2 FF-ICE is currently under development by the ICAO Air Traffic Management Requirements and Performance Panel (ATMRPP) and a gradual implementation of the system is proposed for between 2018 and 2028. IFATCA is represented on the ATMRPP.

1.3 ICAO aims to finalize both guidance material and proposals for amendment during 2015 in order to meet the 2018-2028 implementation goal; however, as the concept is still under development it is likely that early implementation will be limited to small regions or just a subset of FF-ICE functionality.


2.1 The existing flight planning system and its limitations

2.1.1 It is only three years since the introduction of FPL2012 so why is ICAO developing a new flight planning system?

2.1.2 FPL2012 allowed operators to notify their specific NAV, COM and SUR capabilities and reduced the reliance on Field 18 entries such as ‘RMK/…’ however, while FPL2012 improved some aspects of flight planning, some things were lost such as ‘RVR/…’.

2.1.3 FPL2012 is still based on the architecture from when flight planning was a paper-based, human-interpreted system and is subject to limitations such as:

  • exchange of information is limited to single unit-to-unit messages;
  • flight notification may be submitted only up to 120 hours in advance;
  • information distribution varies between jurisdictions; and
  • regional differences often necessitate the use of free text elements.

2.2 The need for change

2.2.1 ICAO’s vision of an integrated, harmonized and globally interoperable air navigation system up to and beyond 2025 is described in ICAO Doc 9854 – Global Air Traffic Management Operational Concept (the Global ATM Operational Concept).

2.2.2 This paper uses terms from the Global ATM Operational Concept (Appendix A) to describe a number of the key stakeholders in flight planning and flight operations:

  • ATM service provider – air traffic controllers, ATS units, ANSPs and other organizations providing air traffic management services;
  • aerodrome operators – authorities responsible for operations at the aerodrome;
  • airspace user – the organizations operating aircraft and their pilots;
  • emergency service providers – SAR, ARFF and other aviation emergency services; and
  • ATM community – the combination of ATM service providers, aerodrome operators, airspace users, emergency service providers and other stakeholders in the provision of ATM.

2.2.3 The Global ATM Operational Concept is broken up into a number of components that emphasize global information utilization, management and interchange.

The components include:

  • demand and capacity balancing;
  • conflict management;
  • service delivery management;
  • airspace organization and management;
  • aerodrome operations;
  • traffic synchronisation; and
  • airspace user operations.

2.2.4 When an airspace user plans a flight, they have a lot of detailed information that could help the provision of the components described in 2.2.3 above; however, most of this detail is lost when converting the flight plan to FPL2012 format. In fact, the airspace user may hold more detailed information on flight performance than the ATM service provider does. A new flight planning system is required that can retain more detail and help us to realise the Global ATM Operational concept.

2.3 Principles of FF-ICE

2.3.1 ICAO is designing FF-ICE to overcome the limitations of the FPL2012 and support the components of the Global ATM Operational Concept that rely on flight information.

2.3.2 FF-ICE will allow the continuous exchange of information between the two components of the airspace user – the flight deck and the ground unit (airline operations) – and the various service providers (ATM, aerodrome, emergency etc.).

Figure 1: The exchange of FF-ICE information (source: ICAO Doc 9965)

2.3.3 The ATMRPP has defined the principles of FF-ICE as follows:

  • provide a flexible concept that incorporates new technologies/procedures;
  • consider the effects of changing information and communications standards;
  • allow aircraft to indicate performance capabilities; • allow for an early indication of intent;
  • incorporate information for increased and automated CDM;
  • avoid unnecessary limitations on information;
  • support management by four dimensional trajectory;
  • avoid the filing of unnecessary and ambiguous information;
  • adopt a “file by-exception” philosophy when information cannot be standardised;
  • allow for the provision of information security requirements;
  • consider the cost impact on providers and consumers of flight information;
  • incorporate requirements enabling a broad set of flight mission profiles;
  • ensure information is machine-readable;
  • limit the need for free-text information; and
  • ensure that definitions of information elements are globally standardised.

2.3.4 FF-ICE will use the XML schema. XML will allow future updates to the system as well as backwards compatibility and encryption for security of information storage.

2.4 Information elements

2.4.1 The current flight plan has required many amendments and workarounds in order to remain useful. Elements that not defined as part of the flight plan must be added to the flight plan as free text, which reduces machine-readability.

2.4.2 Identifying the information elements that the ATM community will require in the future is a difficult task as it involves some speculation. One of the benefits of using the XML schema is that it will allow changes to be made as the need is identified.

2.4.3 The ATMRPP has determined that the flight information elements of FF-ICE will be the existing information elements of FPL2012 but expanded considerably. This may result in a large number of information elements; however, not all elements will be required in all regions and not all information will be presented to controllers.

2.4.4 Information such as persons on board, life rafts, survival equipment and dangerous cargo, which are all currently part of FPL2012 may become only visible to emergency service providers.

2.5 GUFI

2.5.1 A globally unique flight identifier (GUFI) will be assigned to every flight operating under the FF-ICE system. The GUFI is assigned in addition to the callsign of the flight.

2.5.2 Using a flight number callsign or registration works well in radio telephony; however, FF-ICE will allow flight notification up to one year in advance and callsigns may be reused on a daily basis e.g. SIA207 – a daily flight between Singapore and Melbourne.

2.5.3 The GUFI will be provided by the first ATM service provider or a dedicated ATM service provider to which the initial flight information is provided. The GUFI is assigned to one particular flight from off-blocks to on-blocks and it allows the ATM community to refer to a particular flight even if there are a number of flights with an identical callsign in the FF-ICE system.

2.6 FF-ICE distribution: SWIM and FIXM

2.6.1 How the FF-ICE information is distributed poses a significant problem; in particular, distribution of information for long flights prior to the creation of the trajectory.

2.6.2 In order to determine the stakeholders in a long flight when no trajectory exists, one or more of the following methods may be used:

  • all ATM service providers receive the schedule information;
  • the first ATM service provider receives the schedule information and distributes based on a great circle route;
  • the airspace user determines the ATM service providers that will be notified; or
  • distribution is determined by historical trajectory information.

2.6.3 Each of these options have their own advantages and disadvantages; some options may result in a very large number of information sharing messages as flight notifications are distributed and then cancelled once it becomes apparent that flights will not affect an ATM service provider.

2.6.4 Such distribution and cancellation of flight notification would reduce the effectiveness of FF-ICE in allowing ATM service providers to plan for staffing and sector operation, reduce the effectiveness of CDM and it would increase bandwidth requirements of the system.

2.6.5 System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) – sharing all relevant ATM data

This will form the basis for information management of the entire ATM system and FF-ICE data exchange will be just one aspect of the future ATM system that uses SWIM. FF-ICE stakeholders (ATM and emergency service providers, airspace users etc.) will use the SWIM network to provide and access FF-ICE information.

2.6.6 The Flight Information Exchange Model (FIXM) – a data interchange format that aims to increase interoperability in the ATM system

This is currently designed to support the FPL2012 flight system as well as the GUFI. The FIXM Change Control Board has agreed to the development of FIXM version 4 in order to support the introduction of FFICE.

2.7 Security

2.7.1 FPL2012 contains limited information, and most of the information is only of use to controllers; however, FF-ICE will contain much more information and this may include security and commercially sensitive data. The increase in sensitive data associated with FF-ICE necessitates an increased focus on information security.

2.7.2 The FF-ICE concept includes a layered security system, which will need to:

  • restrict read access to those stakeholders with a ‘need-to-read’; and
  • restrict write access to those stakeholders with a ‘need-to-write’.

2.7.3 TOC has prepared a Working Paper titled ‘SWIM technical and legal issues’, which considers the implications of an ATM system that will facilitate the sharing of sensitive data over potentially vulnerable networks to a wide audience; this includes FF-ICE.

2.8 The FF-ICE concept in operation

2.8.1 In order to envisage the operation of the FF-ICE, consider the conduct of two flights: one using FPL2012 and one using FF-ICE.

Table 1: The FPL2012 flight plan life cycle (adapted from ICAO Doc 9965)

2.8.2 Note that although the airspace user and the public have known of the flight for up to twelve months in advance, the flight only enters the ATM system at a maximum of five days prior to flight. Because the flight notification is submitted at such a late stage, ATM service providers cannot strategically plan airspace or staffing configurations.

2.8.3 Because of the static nature of the flight plan, each change is an opportunity for inconsistent information to exist because each stakeholder holds their own copy of the flight plan, which is only updated by messages originated by ATM service providers.

2.8.5 FF-ICE will leverage the various activities leading up to the flight to provide stakeholders with the information that they need.

Table 2: The FF-ICE life cycle (adapted from ICAO Doc 9965)

2.8.6 FF-ICE aims to provide information to stakeholders from the first opportunity, which should assist with strategic planning e.g. an ATM service provider may know to expect a traffic peak far enough in advance to roster extra staff rather than calling in staff at the last minute or implementing traffic metering.

2.9 Transition

2.9.1 The transition to FPL2012 demonstrated the good and bad aspects of an industry-wide system transition; the ATM community should use these lessons to improve the transition to FF-ICE.

2.9.2 The transition to FF-ICE is a bigger change than the transition to FPL2012 because it is a change to not only technological components but also the very concept of flight notification. As much of the existing ICAO documentation uses the term ‘flight plan’, there will need to be extensive changes to both ICAO and local ATSU documentation in addition to system changes.

2.9.3 It is considered likely that the introduction of FF-ICE will be staged over a number of months or perhaps even years. A lesson learnt from FPL2012 is that when neighbouring ATSUs do not transition to a new system at the same time, difficulties may arise. Automated systems that rely on correct format and syntax are unable to interact without conversion programs, which can lead to errors, processing delays or reverting to manual systems. FF-ICE should be designed to operate in parallel with FPL2012 in order to reduce transition difficulties.

2.9.4 Controllers and other stakeholders will need to undergo training in the use of FF-ICE. ATM service providers will need to update automated ATM systems and system interfaces including the flight notification interface for operators.

2.9.5 ICAO proposes that the staged transition to FF-ICE will be managed by state and/or regional cooperation and whole regions may transition together (a widespread transition may reduce difficulties described in 2.9.3, which were witnessed with FPL2012).

2.9.6 Where flights cross the boundaries between FF-ICE regions and non-FF-ICE regions, there may be a requirement for operators to provide flight information in both formats, or FF-ICE ATM service providers may agree to convert an old-format flight plan into the FF-ICE format and distribute it on behalf of the airspace user. Protocols for transit between FF-ICE and non-FF-ICE regions must be clearly defined and made available to all stakeholders.

2.9.7 Stakeholders that are involved in the development of FF-ICE may be able to achieve early implementation and assist their neighbours; however, other states will need time to integrate FF-ICE into their systems and this may be a complex, lengthy and costly process.


3.1 FF-ICE is the term adopted by ICAO for the XML-based replacement to the existing flight plan, which is being developed by the ATMRPP with the aim of a gradual implementation 2018-2028.

3.2 It is a dynamic system that is designed to facilitate global information utilization, management and interchange as described in the Global ATM Operational Concept.

3.3 It shares the latest information related to a flight with all stakeholders and will remove the need for ATM service providers and airspace operators to send inter-unit messages in order to update flight plan details.

3.4 A number of issues require resolution including the problems of security of access, the method of distribution and the management of the transition period.

3.5 ATM service providers and their regions that have participated in the development of FF-ICE may be ready for transition in 2018; other ANSPs and their regions could be delayed and careful management of flights that fly between FF-ICE and flight plan regions will be necessary.


It is recommended that:

4.1. This paper is accepted as information material.


ICAO Doc 9854 AN/458 Global Air Traffic Management Operational Concept.

ICAO Doc 9965 AN/483 Manual on Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE).


Summary of discussions from the ATMRPP WG24, Sydney, 24-28 June 2013.

Summary of discussions from the ATMRPP WG26, Tokyo, 7-11 May 2014.

Summary of discussions from the ATMRPP WG27, Montreal, 27-31 October 2014.

Working Paper IFATCA/53 5-9 May 2014 WP/79 ICAO ATMRPP.

Working Paper ATMRPP/27 27-31 October 2014 WP/648 Appendix A FF-ICE Maintenance.

Last Update: October 1, 2020  

May 9, 2020   305   Jean-Francois Lepage    2015    

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