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Planes on the move

Demonstration of the central control system set up by the partners of the DEFAMM project at Cologne/Bonn airport (Germany).

While control of air traffic is satisfactory in the air, it appears to be much less efficient on the ground. Surface movement management is largely a task for controllers. In view of the steady increase in traffic, questions arise about the efficiency and safety of the way this situation. Fifteen European partners have examined a promising solution to the problem: integrating all data in a centralised system, a large part of which will be automated.


While we are all familiar with the gripes and groans of air traffic controllers, we hear much less

about the complaints of passengers whose flight is delayed or whose plane is grounded because of bad weather conditions. This is essentially due to the fact that air traffic increases by 5% on average each year, causing the number of flights to double every 10 years. It is therefore not surprising that there are problems in keeping infrastructure abreast of this development - expanding an airport is not an easy task - and that managing the daily flurry of movements of hundreds of planes is proving increasingly complex.

In recent years, there have been many improvements to flight control systems. In contrast, surface movement management systems have become less efficient. Philippe Martin of Thomson ISR explains that at most airports only vehicle detection by radar or GPS is automated. All other aspects of guidance and routing control are entirely managed by the controller, who only receives basic information. In the strict sense of the term, the controller must be able to see the position of planes on apron and on runways.

Given these conditions, it is understandable that dense fog can paralyse an airport for hours on end.

One architecture, four functions

Fifteen European partners (industry, research bodies, airports and air traffic authorities) in the DEFAMM project (Demonstration Facilities for Airport Movement Management) have pooled their efforts for three years towards improving airport traffic management. Franz Monzel, project coordinator, points out that the two key words are safety and efficiency. This double objective can be met by automating more systems. Under the DEFAMM project, data have therefore been combined which had previously never been used together, in a coherent and automated exchange architecture.

The data correspond to the four basic functions of any surface movement management system: surveillance, control, planning/routing and guidance. Surveillance involves determining the situation of traffic at the airport and control detects and regulates conflicts, e.g. the risk of collisions between aircraft. These two functions make use of detection systems such as radar or the Global Positioning System (GPS). Planning and routing means that the controller assigns to each pilot the ground route to be taken from the runway to the aircraft's location on the parking apron, and guidance involves the transmission of information about this route to the pilot.

"Helping" the controllers

The DEFAMM partners first of all analysed professional requirements. The desired architecture has to be clear and concise. The system had to be modular so as to be adaptable to various small and large airport configurations and make it possible to integrate installations already available. Franz Monzel emphasises that the aim is not to reduce the number of controllers but to give them the wherewithal to handle the data available with greater ease and make their decisions more secure.

New software, integrating basic data and other elements (supplied in particular by new detection instruments used when visibility is poor or by external systems), will determine an individual pilot's path and submit it to the controller. In all cases, it is the latter who will take the final decision to confirm or reject the proposed path.

Tests on apron and new takeoff

There have been real?scale demonstrations of the project at Cologne/Bonn (Germany), Paris/Orly (France), Braunschweig (Germany) and Bergamo (Italy). Before studying the full system at Cologne/Bonn, the three other airports were used as test sites for specific trials and technologies. At Orly, for instance, a pilot guiding system using switchable signs was set up. When a controller confirmed the taxiing route suggested by the system, the data were directly transmitted to display panels located along the route. Through this method it was possible to substantially reduce radio communication as well as taxiing time.

Questionnaires and interviews have revealed overall satisfaction on the part of pilots, controllers and drivers and gave them an opportunity to comment on the system. By reducing response time, for instance, it was possible to reduce the safe distance between aircraft on apron. With regard to guidance operations, it seems that voice communication cannot be totally eliminated. The automatic route organisation function met with some resistance from controllers who believed that they could carry out this task more efficiently and more rapidly.

According to Cesare Bernabei, scientific officer for the project at the Directorate?General for Energy and Transport, the various tests bore out the feasibility of the concept, and this is the principal success of DEFAMM. Its results have made it possible to focus on new research. DEFAMM has been the first project on this scale constituting a first step towards a harmonised management system for European airports.

Demonstration Facilities for Airport Movement Management (DEFAMM)



Franz?Georg Monzel
Airsys Navigation Systems GmbH
Lorentzstrasse 10
D-70435 Stuttgart
Fax: +49 811 82 14 02 92
E- mail: Franz.Monzel@de.ANS.

- Airsys Navigation Systems GmbH (AANS), Stuttgart, Germany (coordinator)
- Aéroports de Paris (ADP), Paris, France
- ISR, Group Thomson, Massy, France
- Alenia Un'Azienda Finmeccanica S.p.A., Rome, Italy
- Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG (DASA), Ulm, Germany
- Dassault Electronique S.A. (DE), Saint Cloud, France
- Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (DFS), Offenbach, Allemagne
- Deutsche Forschunsanstalt für Luft und Raumfart e.V. (DLR), Cologne, Germany
- Defence Research Agency (DRA), Farnborough, United Kingdom
- Eurocontrol HQ, Brussels, Belgium
- Flughafen Köln/Bonn GmbH (FKB), Cologne, Germany
- Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aerospacial (INTA), Torrejon de Ardoz, Spain
- National Avionics Ltd (NA), Dublin, Ireland
- Nationaal Lucht- en Ruimtevaartiaboratorium (NLR), Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Oerlikon-Contraves S.p.A. (OCI), Rome, Italy
- Société Française d'Etudes et de Réalisation d'Equipements Aéronautiques (SQF), Yssy-les-Moulineaux, France

"The aim is not to reduce the number of controllers but to give them the wherewithal to handle the data available with greater ease and make their decisions more secure."