Taking firm steps towards Air Traffic Management modernisation in times of COVID-19

Despite the dramatic impacts of COVID-19 on aviation, Europe’s Air Traffic Management (ATM) modernisation is ongoing with a high degree of commitment from all aviation stakeholders, including airport operators. The European Commission has made the Airport Operations Plan (AOP) mandatory in 30 major European airports and has extended the mandatory deployment of SESAR ATM technologies and procedures to 10 additional airports in Europe, within the scope of the Common Project 1 (CP1) Commission Implementing Regulation. Report by Barbora Smolikova

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global economy in every possible way and has had a devastating impact on the aviation industry in particular. A second wave of COVID-19 infections is hitting Europe and governments are imposing new partial lockdowns, making travel, again, nearly impossible. This poses the fundamental question of whether airport operators will be able to restore their investment capabilities, both in terms of money and human resources, to comply with the mandatory investments stipulated in the European Commission Regulation, specifically the Pilot Common Project implementation, which aims to modernise the Single European Sky.

In this complex context, ACI EUROPE’s SESAR Related Deployment Airport Grouping (SDAG) has been working closely with airport operators to provide the necessary support. The aim is to preserve what has already been invested – since 2014 nearly 85% of deployment implementation has been either completed or was in progress before the COVID-19 pandemic. SDAG is also making sure that airport operators are compliant with mandatory European Commission Implementing Regulation and therefore continue to bring an added value to their end-customers, the passengers. The first analysis conducted by SDAG reveals that 33% of the Pilot Common Project (PCP) implementation activities undertaken by airports are impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The average delay reported by airport operators is currently estimated at around 23 months.

In addition to aviation’s vital need for financial support, SDAG has also been working closely with the airport operators and the European Commission to create a stable legal basis (Implementing Regulation (IR) 716/2014), which can set a realistic SESAR Deployment Recovery Plan taking into account the COVID-19 impact.

Airports have been engaged in the deployment of mature SESAR tools, procedures and technology since its very beginning. They will continue to do so through the upcoming Common Project 1 (CP1) Commission Implementing Regulation (successor of current Pilot Common Project), which will be put in place in the upcoming few months – hopefully before the end of 2020 or early 2021. The CP1 will continue the investments foreseen in the PCP, including further digitalisation of operations. By making the Airport Operations Plan (AOP) mandatory in some 30 major European airports and by synchronising this AOP with the Network Operations Plan (NOP), the European Commission gives full recognition to ACI EUROPE’s Ground Coordinator concept. In CP1 this is complemented with a further and enlarged roll out of the System Wide Information Management concept (SWIM), which consists of standards, infrastructure and governance enabling seamless ATM-related information access and exchange between all providers of ATM services.

The CP1 will widen its geographical scope by including the following 10 airports:

  • Athens
  • Hamburg
  • Helsinki Vantaa
  • Lisbon
  • Lyon
  • Malaga Costa del Sol
  • Milan Linate
  • Prague
  • Stuttgart
  • Warsaw Chopin

SDAG is already engaged with these airports, organising a dedicated information session on AOP for new “entrants” back in August to provide them with full information on deployment, funding opportunities and respective responsibilities. It is important that more airports invest in the full AOP to be executed through Airport Operating Centres (APOCs). SDAG warmly welcomes the encouraging first reactions from our latest 10 airports.

Vaclav Rehor, Ph.D. CEO Prague Airport

“The Airport Operations Plan is a follow-up step of the A-CDM implementation and it has become an essential element of our strategy towards a data-driven decision-making, demand-capacity balancing, digitalisation and even closer cooperation, thanks to the information sharing not just in a day of operation, but up to 180 days in advance. AOP and APOC are the future pillars we already work on, regardless of whether it will be mandatory or voluntary. The benefits for the airport partners are obvious: a single source of truth available to all involved, better and timely decisions and common performance monitoring.”

Alexandros Aravanis, Chief Operations Officer, Athens International Airport

“Since its establishment (in 2001), Athens International Airport (AIA) has been a highly performing node of the air transport system. For the full integration of airport processes in Air Traffic Management (ATM) and a collaborative concept of operations, AIA has established a concrete plan for operational transformation under the frame of the CEF 2017 co-funded Action, which will allow for coping with future demand, emerging business needs, enhanced performance requirements, with a positive impact on the European ATM network performance. Aiming at deriving maximum benefits from the new Common Project (CP1), it is expected that, as of 2023, AIA will be able to commence the deployment of a fully-fledged new generation Airport Services Operations Centre, aligned with the “Extended AOP” for advanced performance-based management by using state-of-the-art technology, resulting in consolidated, efficient and climate friendly operations.”

Alessandro Fidato, Chief Operating Officer, Milan Linate Airport

“Future Airport and Network operations will be based on collaborative decision-making processes by sharing the right information. SEA strongly believes that the development of an AOP at Malpensa and Linate airports is key to facilitate cooperation among stakeholders in view of an improved overall quality of service, thanks to the enhancement of the information sharing level and, consequently, improved accuracy level of the Airport Operational Database (AODB) / Airport Collaborative Decision-Making (ACDM). The possibility of introducing predictive functions in the AOP applications will be of paramount importance in case of disruption, contingency and emergency. It will reduce recovery time and ease the task of all actors as the introduction of Post-operations Analysis App will help understand the airport performance against the performance plan and identify the root causes of deviations.”

It should be stressed that the deployment of mandatory ATM technologies should continue to be facilitated by public funding to ensure appropriate speed of investments and implementation. Airport operators have proven to be committed to deployment under those conditions. The EU should continue to make available the financial means that the industry needs for the right sequence, harmonisation and synchronisation of deployment. SDAG hopes to see a new Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) call under the new Multiannual Financial Framework and Connecting Europe Facility before the end of 2021.

Even though it is still difficult to quantify the COVID-19 impacts and to associate the relevant mitigation measures to implement, SDAG will keep cooperating closely with both operational stakeholders and the European Commission to be able to identify the most appropriate measures to maintain continuity in investments in ATM modernisation, which, more than ever, is perceived as a very important step towards achieving the Single European Sky goals: putting in place the performance-based regulatory framework, improving technology, increasing safety, optimising airport infrastructure and giving more focus to the human factor.

For more information, please contact SDAG on the following email addresses: barbora.smolikova@airportgrouping.org and luc.laveyne@aci-europe.org

You can visit the SDAG webpage: https://www.aci-europe.org/aci-europe-airport-grouping.html

Luc Laveyne is Managing Director, ACI EUROPE’s SESAR Related Deployment Airport Grouping (SDAG).

Barbora Smolikova is Project Manager & Funding Expert, SDAG.

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