Virtual Centres – Review ATS 3.15 Functional Blocks of Airspace

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Virtual Centres – Review ATS 3.15 Functional Blocks of Airspace

56TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Toronto, Canada, 15-19 May 2017

WP No. 84

Virtual Centres – Review ATS 3.15 Functional Blocks of Airspace

Presented by PLC and TOC

Summary

The worldwide patchwork of FIRs and associated ANSPs is a cause of operational and organisational inefficiencies. In Europe, where the problem is most pronounced due to the large number of states and flights, functional airspace blocks (FABs) were envisaged as a solution; however, implementation has been slower than expected. Virtual centres provide a method of virtual, rather than physical, consolidation by isolating and geographically decoupling the data and control elements of ATM, which may provide an alternative path to achieve the aims of FABs. There remain a number of technical as well as professional and legal challenges to the virtual centre concept but its development continues. Along with space-based ADS-B, virtual centres are an example of the increasing reliance that ANSPs are placing on third parties for communication, navigation and surveillance data.

Introduction

1.1 ACCs in relatively small states are often responsible for the airspace over the entire state. Where states are larger, historical limitations on communications and surveillance technology (such as the reliance on ground links, the reliability of the network and maintenance costs), in addition to political and social issues, saw the creation of a number of ACCs within a single state.

1.2 The resulting patchwork of FIRs imposed restrictions on air traffic and hampered a holistic approach to ATM, with each FIR using its own unique combination of surveillance, communication and controller procedures. The implementation of bilateral and regional agreements has somewhat overcome this fragmentation; however, these agreements address the symptoms rather than the cause.

1.3 The problems associated with this patchwork of FIRs are most pronounced in Europe. The Single European Sky initiative of the European Commission is intended to overcome the limitations of the current fragmented approach through operational and technical interoperability initiatives but this has yet to deliver meaningful results.

1.4 With communication and surveillance technology advancing, it has become easier for large amounts of data to be delivered over long distances. This has facilitated the implementation of remotely operated towers (ROT), where the tower controller uses video and electronic surveillance from a facility far from the airport. The first ROT centre became fully operational in April 2015 in Sundsvall (Sweden), controlling the traffic operation in Örnsköldsvik airport (75 NM to the north).

1.5 Technological development has also facilitated the consolidation of ACCs into centres responsible for very large areas of airspace – the Melbourne ACC in Australia provides ATC (using VHF communications, ADS-B surveillance and 5 NM separation) at Learmonth, which is 2,000 NM away.

1.6 The implementation of these consolidated ACCs and ROTs demonstrate that, using technology available today, it is possible to deliver ATS to locations far-removed from the controller working position (CWP).

1.7 While ANSPs have traditionally developed or purchased automation systems in isolation, it has been identified that joint procurement of equipment may lower purchase costs and enable operational efficiencies. In their vision for a Single European Sky, aircraft operators envisage ANSPs working together to purchase equipment that meets standards defined at a regional level and allows for effective load sharing between providers (A blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on safety, environment, capacity and cost-effectiveness, IATA, AEA and ERA).

1.8 The 2015 edition of the European ATM Master Plan states that the European vision for 2050 is: “trajectory-based operations (The trajectory-based operations concept relies on the provision of air navigation services in support of the execution of the business or mission trajectory: aircraft can fly their preferred trajectories without being constrained by airspace configurations.), enabled by a progressive increase of the level of automation support, the implementation of virtualisation technologies as well as the use of standardised and interoperable systems.”

1.9 IFATCA provisional policy on Functional Blocks of Airspace (FBAs) was adopted by the directors at the 2003 conference after regional policy was drafted at the European regional meeting in November 2002. When the provisional policy was drafted and proposed, the development of what are now more commonly called FABs was in its infancy; however, as more information and experience is now available, a review of IFATCA policy has been conducted in conjunction with a study of the virtual centre concept.

Discussion

2.1 The virtual centre concept

2.1.1 The term ‘virtual centre’ can cause confusion as one definition of the word ‘virtual’ is ‘not real’; however, the virtual centre concept is in fact related to the provision of ATM where the data and control elements are isolated and geographically decoupled. In its most pure form, virtual centres can be envisaged as a system under which any controller, at any CWP, in any ATS unit (ATSU), can provide an ATC service in any airspace or airport. The UK ANSP NATS refers to this is as ‘any time, any service, anywhere’ (Prospects for ‘remote’ en-route air traffic services, European Parliament 2016).

2.1.2 The idea behind the virtual centre concept is to collect ATM data (surveillance, flight, coordination, transfer and correlation data) and to distribute it to the ATSU providing the ATM service, regardless of its location, using system-wide information management (SWIM) applications. The concept would enable the management of each ATC sector from more than one centre so that a seamless service is provided to aircraft operators. As part of the concept, a new term – ATM data service providers (ADSPs) – has been devised to refer to the organisation that collects and distributes the data associated with the provision of ATM. This ADSP may be a separate organisation unaffiliated with the ANSP.

2.1.3 EUROCONTROL claims that virtual centres have the potential for underpinning far-reaching further interoperability improvements and overcoming the restrictions imposed by the patchwork of FIRs in Europe ( ‘A demonstration of the world’s first virtual centre’, EUROCONTROL 2016, http://www.eurocontrol.int/news/demonstration-world-first-virtual-centre).

2.1.4 The first multi-site demonstration of a virtual centre was conducted in February 2016. In the multisite and multi-platform exercise, radar data collected by NATS in Southampton, UK was exchanged between two data service systems from different suppliers using a SWIM broker. During the demonstration, CWPs in Brétigny, France were configured to display surveillance data from both NATS and EUROCONTROL systems.


2.2 ATM fragmentation

2.2.1 ATM fragmentation is recognised to be a factor with negative impact on both the efficiency and the safety of flights (Best practice guide to crossing flight information boundaries, CANSO 2015). Differences between control centres regarding incompatible automation systems, differing separation standards and procedures often lead to operational restrictions that increase the complexity of the ATM system.

2.2.2 The practice of amalgamating these elements has gone some way to reducing these restrictions because single ANSPs (or providers with strong operational and technical agreements) will usually use integrated systems, which will allow simplified coordination (both manual and automatic) between controllers and simplified flight data processing. The implementation of regional standards for information exchange such as AIDC and ASTERIX (AIDC (ATS inter-facility data link communication) is a system for the automated exchange of flight information; ASTERIX (all-purpose structured EUROCONTROL surveillance information exchange) is a technical standard for the exchange of ATM surveillance information) has eased the sharing of information between ANSPs and their automation systems.

2.2.3 In Europe, nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) were conceived with the aim of defragmenting European airspace. These FABs would see greater coordination between neighbouring ANSPs within a FAB and in some cases an integrated provider becoming responsible for the provision of en route services from a single location within the FAB.

2.2.4 While physical consolidation (either within or across states) can reduce restrictions, it can also affect system redundancy as larger blocks of airspace rely on the continued operation of a single facility. Even as ATM automation systems improve in reliability, service delivery can be affected by other issues (Events such as the Chicago ACC fire demonstrate how, no matter reliable the automation system is, outside events can have catastrophic consequences for the operation of the system).

2.2.5 The projects related to the creation of European FABs have experienced a number of problems mainly related to political and economic considerations: only one FAB out of nine reached the deadlines set by the EU Commission. A virtual consolidation may be more achievable in some locations in the short to medium term because it could negate some of the political and economic considerations of physical consolidation.


2.3 ICAO rules and conventions

2.3.1 In accordance with ICAO conventions and annexes, each state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory and nominates an organisation to provide ATM within that airspace. A state may also choose to delegate the responsibility for establishing and providing ATM in FIRs, control areas or control zones extending over its territory if it so wishes.

2.3.2 Although the boundaries of FIRs and the provision of ATM is predominantly based upon state boundaries today, there are already examples of states delegating their airspace to a neighbouring state and of organisations controlling airspace over multiple states: Singapore controls some Indonesian airspace, Australia and New Zealand control upper airspace over smaller pacific nations while EUROCONTROL manages the airspace above FL245 over Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and some of Germany.

2.3.3 Annex 11 to the Convention states that such a delegation of airspace does not impact upon the sovereignty of the airspace and that the responsibility of the state accepting the delegation is limited to technical and operational considerations. Furthermore, Annex 11 affirms that a state delegating its airspace should establish facilities for the use of the providing state and that the providing state must provide ATM in accordance with the requirements of the latter.

2.3.4 While these existing rules and examples of delegation apply to long-term agreements, it appears that the rules could by adapted to apply to the type of dynamic delegation envisaged under the virtual centre concept.


2.4 IFATCA policy

2.4.1 IFATCA does not have any policy on virtualisation of ATC as a general concept; however, provisional policy regarding FABs was agreed in 2003, which is as follows:

The creation of Functional Blocks of Airspace should achieve the expected operational benefits.

It should also grant a clear and full evaluation and definition of all the legal implications in service provision by multinational ATCOs employed in countries with different legislations. The legal liability and under whose jurisdiction must be clearly defined.

The efficient creation and management of an FBA does not necessarily require the physical concentration of all ANS functions within a single multinational centre.

Through stable evolutionary processes the pros and cons of creating common ACCs should be compared to a continuation of the ongoing harmonization of existing ACCs especially with regard to the social implications.

All details of any plan to create an FBA have to be fully transparent to all.

As the possible implications of creating FBAs have not been thoroughly studied, the EB should be tasked to look deeper into this subject and task the appropriate SC to draft a complete policy on FBAs for next conference. The creation of “Virtual Centres” should be considered as a mean of meeting the objective of implementing FBAs.

(Technical and Professional Manual, p. 3 2 3 16, IFATCA 2016)

 

2.4.2 Of note, IFATCA policy on remote and virtual tower service is as follows:

ATCOs shall not be required to provide a Remote and Virtual tower service for more than one aerodrome simultaneously.

Separation standards and procedures for Remote and Virtual Towers shall be developed or adapted and implemented based on a robust safety case and the demonstrated capabilities of the system.

Standards, procedures and guidance for Remote and Virtual Towers are required.

Remote and Virtual tower systems should be capable of providing the same service level as an aerodrome control tower; partial aerodrome control service configurations are undesirable.

(Technical and Professional Manual, p. 3 2 2 19, IFATCA 2016)

 

2.4.3 Furthermore, IFATCA policy on determining operational readiness of new ATM systems includes some statements that are relevant to the virtualisation of ATC:

Operational controllers shall be involved in the design, development and implementation of new ATM systems. Their role shall include:

  • Establishing user requirements.
  • Defining operational training requirements prior to implementation.
  • Participating in the risk assessment process.
  • Validating the system.
  • Providing feedback in the further development of the system.

The design, development and implementation team of a new ATM system/equipment/tool shall include, as a minimum:

  • System developers – typically software and hardware engineers;
  • Project managers;
  • End-users – i.e. the operational controllers, supervisors and ATSEPs (Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel);
  • Legal experts;
  • Human factors specialists;
  • Safety specialists.

(Technical and Professional Manual, p. 3 2 1 17, IFATCA 2016)

 


2.5 Technical challenges

2.5.1 Although the virtual centre concept is receiving increased attention and promotion, the concept has so far only been demonstrated in a non-operational environment across state boundaries; there remain a number of technical challenges to the concept.

2.5.2 Many of the technologies used today in ATM are based on the principle of discrete FIRs and operating in contravention of this principle poses numerous technical challenges. These challenges vary from simple things such as what radio callsign a controller uses to complex problems of data transfer between unique automation systems. Robust simulations and assessments must certify the systems used to implement virtual centres before their operational implementation. Redundancy must be a fundamental characteristic of the systems used and must be assessed as well.

2.5.3 As discussed above, ANSPs have traditionally taken responsibility for both the collection of communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) data and the provision of ATM. While the term ATM data service provider (ADSP) is introduced with the virtual centre concept, ANSPs around the world have already introduced data into the ATM system that is provided by third parties and used for controller decision-making. CPDLC and ADS-C information, for example, can both be provided to the ANSP by a third party and this position and intent information is used by controllers to provide separation. In the future, position information from space-based ADS-B will be provided by Aireon to ANSPs that purchase the data to provide controllers with surveillance data around the world (‘Global air traffic surveillance’, Aireon 2017 https://aireon.com/services/global-air-traffic-surveillance/).

2.5.4 An increasing reliance by ANSPs on third parties for CNS data can create risks for controllers because the ANSP is no longer in control of the information presented to controllers for their decision making. The CNS data may be of a lower quality, links may be less reliable or the data could even be withheld in a commercial dispute. When a single organisation is acting as ADSP for a number of ANSPs, issues could arise in the scheduling of maintenance and downtime (a downtime that is acceptable to all ANSPs may not exist due to differences in traffic patterns).

2.5.5 In accordance with IFATCA policy, operational controllers play a fundamental role in the design, development and implementation of such new systems and must be involved throughout the implementation program.


2.6 Procedural and legal challenges

2.6.1 At a national level ANSPs can leverage their single regulatory environment to facilitate the dynamic assignment of sectors between ATSUs. Such ANSPs should have a number of air traffic controllers with the same licences and training, who operate to the same rules.

2.6.2 The prospect of air traffic controllers providing ATM in another state’s airspace raises a number of procedural and legal considerations.

2.6.3 When analysing the cross border provision of service during contingencies, EUROCONTROL identifies that there is a need to clarify which laws and regulations, or operational rules and procedures will be applied to air traffic controllers who provide ATS in foreign airspace (EUROCONTROL guidelines for contingency planning of air navigation services (including service continuity), 2nd edn., EUROCONTROL 2009). The same assumption, according to TOC and PLC, is certainly valid during normal operations. However, such a determination is difficult because, should there be differences between the method of working in state A and state B, controllers in state A will likely be unaware of these differences and thus when providing services in state B, they will be unable to provide a service in accordance with these differences. If ATM is to be provided across borders, ANSPs and regulators must establish the rules that apply in the airspace.

2.6.4 This issue can also be extended to the legal framework. Different countries would most likely apply different penal and administrative laws, so the techniques used by controllers may be supported by their ‘home’ legal environment but not by the one applicable in the airspace in which they are providing a service. This situation could lead to serious problems especially in case of incidents or accidents (PLC presented a paper on the concept of ‘duty of care’ at the 2017 Annual Conference, which notes the legal differences between jurisdictions around the world).

2.6.5 In such a case the IFATCA provisional policy at paragraph 2.4.1 is relevant insomuch that a clear and full evaluation of all the legal implications of cross-border service provision should be conducted prior to providing such a service.

2.6.6 It can be seen that there are a number of topics that demand attention before dynamic assignment of sectors across borders becomes commonplace; its use by ANSPs as a contingency procedure may be a first step.


2.7 Staffing/resourcing considerations

2.7.1 ANSPs face staffing challenges associated with the amalgamation of ATSUs including the need to fund the relocation of staff. The location of an amalgamated single ATSU can pose headaches as the location will not suit all staff and could result in industrial issues.

2.7.2 In contrast, providing the correct numbers of staff in a number of smaller ATSUs can be problematic because a larger ATSU provides the ANSP with the ability to move staff between sectors as demand changes without physical relocation costs.

2.7.3 Using the virtual centre concept, sectors could be allocated to ATSUs with surplus personnel in a flexible manner. This, according to Frequentis (For a Safer World: Virtual centre application use case study: concept of operation for multi-remote virtual tower operation, Frequentis 2015), allows workload to be easily distributed across control centres at times of peak activity, while sectors can be merged when traffic is low.

2.7.4 However, this practice shouldn’t be used as a solution to staffing problems but rather as a temporary measure in response to short-term changes in demand because in order to mitigate such a problem, there is the need to have excessive personnel somewhere else.


2.8 Virtualisation in the ACC or APP environment

2.8.1 Principles of good sector design require that boundaries are placed with regard to major traffic flows (as well as other technical and operational considerations) – a sector may be aligned with a majority of arriving traffic to an aerodrome, departing traffic or perhaps the major flow between two aerodromes. When an ANSP is responsible for a number of FIRs within a single state, they may have the flexibility to alter FIR boundaries to align with traffic flow. An example of altering FIR boundaries within a state is seen in Australia where the boundary between the Brisbane and Melbourne FIRs was altered in 2008 to reduce the instances of aircraft ‘weaving’ back and forward between FIRs. Other examples exist where states have altered the FIR boundary away from national boundaries to facilitate the movement of aircraft such as the agreement between Singapore and Indonesia in the vicinity of Singapore.

2.8.2 Airspace releases between sectors within a single FIR or even between FIRs are already a commonly practised procedure, whereby a controller (or letters of agreement) will delegate another controller the responsibility of providing ATS to the flights operating within a defined area. That area may be pre-defined in local operating procedures or it may be decided on a tactical basis.


2.9 Virtualisation in the TWR environment

2.9.1 In analogy to what happens for an ACC or APP environment, the virtual centre concept is also relevant when thinking about remotely operated towers (ROT). Such a concept would consider a number of different ROT control centres, each one composed by a number of sectors controlling one aerodrome (IFATCA strongly opposes the provision of a remotely operated tower service for more than one aerodrome simultaneously). This virtual centre would be able to allocate the sectors among its actual units according to traffic demand, availability of personnel, maintenance programs, etc.

2.9.2 Moreover, as highlighted at the 2016 IFATCA Annual Conference (WP 313 – Remote/virtual TWR from the professional, procedural and HF view) while the concept of combined sectors is accepted in a radar environment, due to the nature of radar (north is always displayed up in the screen), this does not translate to the aerodrome task, where different runway orientations and local geography is unique.

2.9.3 These peculiarities demand an increased cognitive effort to switch from one “aerodrome sector” to another one, which can take time and impact on task performance and eventually on safety. This impact must be carefully assessed before implementing the virtual centre concept or any kind of other concept related to control centres where controllers are requested to switch from a ROT sector to another one.

Steps to virtualisation

2.9.4 While Europe remains the driver behind virtual centres, parts of the concept are also being developed in other parts of the world. The sharing of surveillance data between ATSUs has already been implemented by ANSPs in the ASIA/PAC region, where it has been identified as a key enabler for the provision of seamless ATM (Asia/Pacific Seamless ATM Plan, ICAO 2016).

2.9.5 As of 2017, Airservices Australia is in the process of developing a new ATC automation system; the single system is proposed to replace discrete civil and military systems and would permit virtual centre-like operations that assign responsibility for airspace dynamically between automation systems around the country. In this case, the virtual centre concept would allow the ATM system to better cater to the changes in demand caused by changes in upper winds as well as provide system redundancy.

2.9.6 The Australian experience is eased by the use of a single technology platform; however, a single technology platform is not necessarily a limiting factor in virtual centres as different technology platforms may make use of common data formats for CNS data.


2.10 Social conditions

2.10.1 As the virtual centre concept considers to provide the air traffic services in a flexible manner, enabling the possibility to activate the sectors of numerous units according to real-time variables (winds, maintenance, failures, staff, etc.), some social issues may arise.

2.10.2 This possibility, for example, without a proper legislation, could allow an ANSP to circumvent labour disputes by switching off the affected units and transferring the responsibility of the provision of ATS to other centres.

2.10.3 In the same manner, this concept, conceived to allow operational flexibility and to increase safety by ensuring the provision of ATS even in case of complete unavailability of a unit, might open a door to social dumping. In fact, competition among workers from different countries might be possible due to different social conditions, different wages and the theoretical possibility for a company to justify the activation of some sectors in a specific unit because it would be cheaper than activating the same sector in a different location.


2.11 Licensing and proficiency

2.11.1 Annex 1 to the Convention states that a contracting state shall not permit the holder of a licence to exercise privileges other than those granted by that licence. Moreover, paragraph 4.5.3.4, states that the licence shall be maintained valid by exercising its privileges with a maximum intermission of six months (shorter periods may be established by the licensing authority).

2.11.2 Following this, in a virtual centre environment (as in any other case) controllers need to exercise the privileges deriving from their licence according to the procedures set by the authority. These procedures, among other goals, ensure that the holder maintains proficiency in all ratings and endorsements.

2.11.3 One of the aims of the virtual centre concept is to ensure that air traffic services continue even during major contingencies affecting single or multiple units (e.g. the Chicago ACC fire) by transferring their sectors to other centres. To be ready to provide the services in such a moment, ANSPs should temporarily move the staff to the centre actually working, but in such a case social (industrial) issues may arise.

2.11.4 Another possibility would be to maintain controllers proficient to those sectors all the time by actually using this concept during normal day-to-day operations and by establishing strong training and simulation programs. Such a regime could impose requirements increasing the costs of normal rostering that reduce the overall benefits of virtual operations.

2.11.5 The reform of the existing licensing regime so that controllers were qualified to provide ATM in accordance with the technology used or the level of service provided could facilitate virtual centre operations without the need for such extensive training and simulation programs. A number of ANSPs and technology providers are exploring such concepts and these could significantly affect the way in which controllers perform their roles in the future.

2.11.6 A robust human factors assessment regarding the specific nature of this concept shall ensure that safety levels would not be negatively impacted, describing the maximum number of ratings/endorsements allowed for involved controllers and the time needed by them to safely move from a sector to another. This analysis should take into consideration the complexity of the sectors, the time spent working every single sector, contingencies, task switching issues, etc.


2.12 Review of existing IFATCA FAB policy

2.12.1 As discussed earlier, IFATCA policy on FABs was determined in 2003 when FABs were still in their infancy. It is now appropriate to review the policy in light of changes over the subsequent 14 years including the development of the virtual centre concept.

2.12.2 IFATCA policy uses the term Functional Blocks of Airspace (FBAs), while the European legislative package speaks of Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs). IFATCA policy and European legislation speaks to the same topic despite the different terminology; this demonstrates how policy related to a specific technology solution can become out of date and future policy should not be solution-specific wherever possible.

2.12.3 Current IFATCA provisional policy is:

The creation of Functional Blocks of Airspace should achieve the expected operational benefits.

 

2.12.4 FABs are often seen as a tool to achieve performance targets instead of achieving operational benefits; different stakeholders have different views on what constitutes a FAB and what it should be expected to achieve. It is almost impossible to state that FABs should achieve the expected operational benefits and to test whether or not these operational benefits have been achieved.

2.12.5 Since the aim of the policy statement is hard to measure, the policy seems superfluous and is therefore proposed for deletion.

2.12.6 Current IFATCA provisional policy is:

It should also grant a clear and full evaluation and definition of all the legal implications in service provision by multinational ATCOs employed in countries with different legislations. The legal liability under whose jurisdiction must be clearly defined.

 

2.12.7 At the moment, this policy is about multinational controllers in countries with different legislations. Reading the original paper presented at the Annual Conference, the main concern is not the multinationalism of controllers but on the way sectorisation and the provision of ATM are organised across state borders.

2.12.8 The policy should be reworded to consider the creation of multinational ATSUs that control airspace above several different states (subject to either physical or virtual consolidation). Within these ATSUs, national boundaries don’t necessarily have to be taken into account when creating sectors; automation system interaction and licensing implications must be considered.

2.12.9 In addition, the jurisdiction in which an ATSU will operate must be clearly defined. It is therefore proposed that the current IFATCA provisional policy is reworded as follows:

Organisations that provide ATM services beyond their state borders shall clearly define the operational legal implications of providing these services.

 

2.12.10 The concept of FABs was first introduced in a 2001 study on airspace management and design. Organisation of airspace was to be determined by requirements of economic and operational efficiency, safety and fairness. According to the study, FABs would replace upper controlled airspace, implying that FABs might be cross-border ACCs like Maastricht UAC.

2.12.11 Three options for the implementation of FABs were evaluated:

  • bottom-up regional co-operation;
  • joint franchising by member states; and
  • European franchising.

2.12.12 The European franchising and joint franchising were considered to be most effective; however, it was also concluded that these were probably not politically acceptable for the member states. The bottom-up regional co-operation is the model which was eventually used.

2.12.13 After the European Commission decided at the end of 2012 that no member state has fully met all regulatory requirements set for the implementation of FABs, it was decided to launch legal actions. Member states were requested to create implementation plans with target dates. The Commission provided examples of best practices including, but not limited to:

  • the establishment of a single FAB legal entity, as a joint (possibly holding) company; and
  • merging existing ATSUs into a single actual or virtual control centre.

2.12.14 Current IFATCA provisional policy is:

The efficient creation and management of an FBA does not necessarily require the physical concentration of all ANS functions within a single multinational centre.

 

2.12.15 This statement is in line with the studies performed, which all aim for economic and operational efficiency that could, but do not necessarily need to, include a single multinational centre. This statement also reflects the recent assertions of ATM stakeholders (See, for example, The Virtual Centre Model, Skyguide 2013 and Prospects for ‘remote’ en-route air traffic services, European Parliament 2016) and remains valid despite the outdated terminology. It is therefore proposed that the current IFATCA provisional policy is reworded as follows:

The efficient creation and management of an FAB does not necessarily require the physical concentration of all ANS functions within a single multinational centre.

 

2.12.16 Current IFATCA provisional policy is:

Through stable evolutionary processes, the pros and cons of creating common ACCs should be compared to a continuation of the ongoing harmonization of existing ACCs especially with regard to the social implications.

 

2.12.17 The policy basically calls for the comparison of creation of common, multinational ACCs versus harmonization of existing ACCs. Although the wording could be clearer, the scope is still valid. It is therefore proposed to create full policy in an amended version:

Consideration shall be given to the personal implications for controllers associated with the physical consolidation of ATS units.

 

2.12.18 Current IFATCA provisional policy is:

All details of any plan to create an FBA have to be fully transparent to all.

 

2.12.19 This policy is considered superfluous because existing IFATCA policy on the introduction of new systems demands the involvement of active controllers. Therefore, it is proposed to create policy that clarifies the requirement for the involvement of active controllers by directing the reader to existing policy:

Consolidation of ATS units, whether virtual or physical, shall be considered equal to the implementation of a new ATM system.

 

2.12.20 Current IFATCA provisional policy is:

As the possible implications of creating FBAs have not been thoroughly studied, the EB should be tasked to look deeper into this subject and task the appropriate SC to draft a complete policy on FBAs for next conference. The creation of “Virtual Centres” should be considered as a mean of meeting the objective of implementing FBAs.

 

2.12.21 This policy consists of two parts, the first being an EB action item to look deeper into the subject. Since FABs have been implemented for years, this action item is outdated and is therefore proposed for deletion.

2.12.22 The second part of the provisional policy states that the creation of virtual centres should be considered as a means of meeting the objective of implementing FABs. As already discussed, the creation of virtual centres is proposed to meet the statutory requirement for FAB creation; therefore, this part of the policy is superfluous and proposed for deletion.

Conclusions

3.1 The patchwork of FIRs and associated ANSPs, operating in isolation, creates significant operational inefficiencies in the ATM system.

3.2 The creation of functional airspace blocks (FABs) in Europe was intended to overcome some of these inefficiencies. However, progress on FABs has been slower than anticipated owing to a number of technological, political and economic concerns. Virtual centres, where the data and control elements of ATM are de-linked, may provide an alternative path to consolidation and the associated operational benefits.

3.3 In light of these developments, it is appropriate to review IFATCA policy on FABs, which is over 10 years old.

3.4 Dynamically assigning responsibility within a single system inside a single unit is a reality today. Nevertheless, assigning responsibility across automation systems and FIR boundaries poses a number of technological as well as professional/legal challenges.

3.5 The increasing reliance on third parties for the provision of CNS data poses a risk to controllers where ANSPs lose control over the quality and reliability of data that is used for decision making. This applies to virtual centres as well as other third party systems such ADS-C, CPDLC and the proposed space-based ADS-B system.

3.6 The exact nature of these challenges will become more apparent as the technology is developed in the coming years. Even so, some legal, licensing and proficiency, as well as social issues are already apparent.

Recommendations

4.1 It is recommended that IFATCA policy is:

When controllers are provided with ATM data from a third party, it must be of sufficient quality and reliability for its intended use.

4.2 It is recommended that the following IFATCA policy -TPM ATS 3.14:

The creation of Functional Blocks of Airspace should achieve the expected operational benefits.

is deleted.

4.3 It is recommended that the following IFATCA policy -TPM ATS 3.14:

It should also grant a clear and full evaluation and definition of all the legal implications in service provision by multinational ATCOs employed in countries with different legislations. The legal liability under whose jurisdiction must be clearly defined.

is amended to read:

Organisations that provide ATM services beyond their state borders shall clearly define the operational legal implications of providing these services.

4.4 It is recommended that the following IFATCA policy -TPM ATS 3.14:

The efficient creation and management of an FBA does not necessarily require the physical concentration of all ANS functions within a single multinational centre.

Is amended to read:

The efficient creation and management of an FAB does not necessarily require the physical concentration of all ANS functions within a single multinational centre.

4.5 It is recommended the following IFATCA policy -TPM ATS 3.14:

Through stable evolutionary processes, the pros and cons of creating common ACCs should be compared to a continuation of the ongoing harmonization of existing ACCs especially with regard to the social implications.

Is amended to read:

Consideration shall be given to the personal implications for controllers associated with the physical consolidation of ATS units.

4.6 It is recommended the following IFATCA policy -TPM ATS 3.14:

All details of any plan to create an FBA have to be fully transparent to all.

Is amended to read:

Consolidation of ATS units, whether virtual or physical, shall be considered equal to the implementation of a new ATM system.

and is included in the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual.

References

A Blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on Safety, Environment, Capacity and Costeffectiveness, IATA, AEA and ERA

Prospects for ‘Remote’ En-route Air Traffic Services, European Parliament 2016

‘A demonstration of the world’s first virtual centre’, EUROCONTROL 2016, <http://www.eurocontrol.int/news/demonstration-world-first-virtual-centre>

Annex 1 to the convention on international civil aviation, ICAO 2011

Annex 11 to the convention on international civil aviation, 13th edn., ICAO 2001

Asia/Pacific Seamless ATM Plan, ICAO 2016

Best Practice Guide to Crossing Flight Information Boundaries, CANSO 2015

Convention on international civil aviation, 9th edn., ICAO 2006

EUROCONTROL guidelines for contingency planning of air navigation services (including service continuity), 2nd edn., EUROCONTROL 2009

European ATM masterplan: The roadmap for delivering high performing aviation for Europe, EUROCONTROL 2015

‘Global air traffic surveillance’, Aireon 2017, <https://aireon.com/services/global-air-trafficsurveillance/>

For a Safer World: Virtual centre application use case study: concept of operation for multiremote virtual tower operation, Frequentis 2015

The Virtual Centre Model, Skyguide 2013

SESAR Virtual Centres Frequently Asked Questions, SESARJU 2015, <http://www.sesarju.eu/newsroom/brochures-publications/sesar-virtual-centres-frequentlyasked-questions>

Last Update: October 1, 2020  

January 15, 2020   251   Jean-Francois Lepage    2017    

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