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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Aeronautics projects > Managing European skies in the 21st century
Graphic element Managing European skies in the 21st century

Now, more than ever before, the challenge facing European Air Traffic Management (ATM) is how to generate sufficient capacity, while simultaneously meeting the public's demands for more flights, increased safety levels and lower costs. New equipment is needed, both on the ground and in the air, including more advanced Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) equipment on large numbers of new and existing aircraft. At the same time, services and procedures have to be modified and adapted. In short, a new approach to ATM is required, including technological innovations and new management processes.

AFAS and MA-AFAS - taking pressure off of air traffic controllers

The aeronautics industry is currently undergoing a major revolution, which is being driven by the inexorable growth of civil air traffic. Many expect the remarkable rate of growth, now estimated at between 5% and 8% per year, to rise even higher over the next decades. At the same time, the current European ATM system has been pushed to breaking point. Today, air transport is characterised by inefficient routing for operators, long waits and increasing numbers of delayed flights for passengers, and unacceptable stress for air traffic controllers.

Until now, research has focused on a number of individual innovations in support of improved CNS and ATM, but the actual integration of a beneficial selection of these technologies into a functioning public transport system has yet to be undertaken.

AFAS: setting ATM standards

AFAS, launched in April 2000, is a three-year project investigating the cost-benefit relationship of combined innovative technologies, the regulatory, safety and service standards required for their safe and successful operation on a day-to-day basis, and the engineering and operational issues that these standards will need to address. To ensure the widespread acceptance of its findings, the AFAS project is basing its investigation on the use of existing international interoperability standards, with 2005 as an initial integration target date.

Speaking at the Aeronautics Days 2001 conference in Hamburg earlier this year, project co-ordinator Peter Potocki de Montalk explained that AFAS is primarily addressing aircraft-related issues, concentrating its efforts on the integration of ICAO-standardised CNS/ATM technology within the Airbus A320, an aircraft which is expected to handle a large of proportion of Europe's air transport needs in the coming years.

The AFAS project is helping to pave the way towards the future ATM system and will contribute to improved air traffic as a whole. The consortium, led by Airbus Industrie , will set out an operational ATM scenario, select airborne technologies, develop an avionics package, validate the concept in co-ordination with the ground segment, and demonstrate the economic feasibility of implementation. In addition, the human factor as well as certification issues will be addressed.

MA-AFAS: out of the tower and into the aircraft

Much of the work currently being undertaken in this area involves the common operational concept of a greater level of autonomy for the individual aircraft, i.e. getting more Air Traffic Control (ATC) functionality out of the control tower and into the plane. According to Tony Henley, co-ordinator for the MA-AFAS project (see also : "If planes could talk to each other, identifying themselves, saying where they are and where they're going, a lot of pressure would be taken off of the ATC system, allowing a significant increase in air traffic capacity."

MA-AFAS, which began in March 2000, is concentrating on the validation of an advanced Airborne Separation Assurance System (ASAS). "Digital data links are the key to today's new surveillance systems," says Henley. "They allow aircraft to link up with each other the way people might do on the internet. One type of link is called 'point-to-point' in which individual aircraft can talk to both ATC and airline control centres on the ground. The other type is a broadcast data link in which aircraft can simply broadcast their positions to any and everyone in the area."

The MA-AFAS Avionics Package will be validated using both flight simulators and trials on experimental aircraft. This validation will employ real data link communication, representative navigation facilities and surveillance functions.
The package will be tested with simulated and shadow operational ATC centres to verify its interoperability with the ground environment and to evaluate the economic, environmental and social benefits.

   A strong collaborative effort

MA-AFAS comprises a strong team led by BAE Systems, Avionics Group. "We are a diverse team," says Henley. "Avionics suppliers, ATC equipment and service providers, communications people and airlines from around Europe are all working together on this. The European Commission has also shown a lot of interest and has been very helpful."

The AFAS and MA-AFAS projects were designed to be complementary. Both are taking into account the activities of other related Fifth Framework Programme projects as well as those of TEN-T and the EUROCONTROL ATM 2000+ strategy. EUROCONTROL is also an active participant in both projects.

AFAS: setting ATM standards
MA-AFAS: out of the tower and into the aircraft
A strong collaborative effort

Key data

One of the main priorities for the Growth Programme's key action in New Perspectives in Aeronautics is the strengthening and further development of Europe's Air Traffic Management System, including the improvement of both ground-based and air-based technologies.


AFAS - aircraft in the future air traffic management system;
MA-AFAS - more autonomous aircraft in the future air traffic management system.

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