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C-ATM project delivers ambitious concept for air traffic

On 31 January 2006, the EU-funded C-ATM project (Co-operative air traffic management) held its final public forum. On the agenda was a new integrated air/ground operational concept, expected to dramatically improve the efficiency of the overall ATM network by providing more reliable and predictable service to airspace users.

Image of C-ATM meeting

Presented in the project’s document ‘Medium term concept of operations’, the C-ATM concept is suitable for deployment from 2012 and represents a major contribution to the Union’s Single European Sky implementation programme (SESAR).

“We are at a turning point,” said Daniel Calleja, Director of Air Transport at the Commission’s Transport and Energy Directorate-General. “We have taken the current ATM concept as far as it will go. Indeed, it has served us well, but we are at a point where important decisions need to be made about the future of air transport. The sector is growing and is an important driving force for the economy and we must ensure that it remains a driving force, but we can only do this by working together. This is what C-ATM has done.”

Image of Daniel Calleja
Daniel Calleja

Director-General of EUROCONTROL, Victor Aguado, said, “In order to meet the objective of the Lisbon strategy, of becoming the world’s leading knowledge-based economy, Europe must maintain a safe, high-capacity and efficient transport system. A modern ATM network, such as that proposed by the C-ATM project, brings us a step closer to a single, integrated strategy for air traffic management that encompasses both civil and defence needs. This is the only way to move forward, with everyone working on the same mission. Otherwise, we are simply throwing money out the window.”

The C-ATM challenge

Air traffic in Europe is now expected to double during the 2002-2020 timeframe, but that growth is heavily constrained by traffic congestion and delays. The key challenge for European air transport over the next 15-20 years will be to dramatically improve the efficiency of the overall network, to provide cost-effective, on-time air transport services while minimising disruption due to weather or other unpredictable events and, crucially, while maintaining or improving safety.

Such challenges can only be met through a combination of actions aimed at reducing inefficiency in today’s air traffic management system, integrating disparate elements and consolidating air transport into a single, well-oiled whole.‎

“C-ATM did not delve into new or revolutionary research areas,” explained project coordinator Peter Howlett of THALES ATM France. “Instead, we sought to assembly and consolidation mature elements within an overall system that is achievable in the targeted timeframe. Improvements will be made through co-operative systems and processes aimed at optimising resources and task distribution between air and ground. Data would be shared across the entire system and all of this will contribute to considerably enhanced situational awareness among ATM actors.”

Image of Peter Howlett
Peter Howlett

In order to deliver key improvements in terms of safety, capacity, efficiency and environmental performance, C-ATM partners addressed all ATM segments, systems and services, including:

  • Communication, navigation and surveillance;
  • Airborne separation assistance;
  • 4-D flight management;
  • Capabilities and trajectory planning;
  • Air-ground data-link interoperability;
  • System-wide information management;
  • Advanced tools to support separation management;
  • Flight data processing and flow management;
  • System-wide collaborative decision-making.

The result, says Howlett, will be an effective and predictive ATM system providing the basis for sustainable air transport growth towards 2020.

SESAR – the Single European Sky implementation programme

The SESAR programme is central to the modernisation of European air traffic control infrastructure. It will encompass all technological, economic and regulatory elements, using Single Sky legislation to synchronise the implementation of new equipment in all European Union member states while ensuring that air and ground elements remain compatible.

SESAR was initiated by European ATM equipment manufacturers but now has the support of the entire air transport community. Led by EUROCONTROL, the programme is currently working on an ATM master plan, which will define a common goal and vision for the development of the European air traffic control infrastructure.