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Innovative Future Air Transport System


Present studies concerning the future air transport system (ATS) generally propose generic operational concepts of keeping an organisation with two groups of human beings, some airborne, (the pilots), and others on the ground, (the controllers), trying to manage a complicated system through voice or digital messages, which are partially processed in real time by humans. Yet, the analysis of the causes of fatalities shows that, in many circumstances, human errors are dominant while technical progress gives the impression that machines could overrun human decisions in critical situations.

Project objectives

The IFATS project proposes to study a revolutionary concept for a future ATS by adding as much autonomy as necessary to both the aircraft and the ground control, to fulfil the overall requirements for improving efficiency and safety of air transportation.

The main goals of this project are:

  • to define a technically viable concept of an ATS where aircraft would be operating automatically monitored by an automatic control supervised by ground operators
  • to define autonomous operation procedures and optimise task sharing between the operators, the automated ground control system, the autonomous on-board computing system and an on-board engineer (if needed)
  • to determine the minimum requirements and functionalities of the on-board system, to ensure safe operation in the case of communication loss with the ground control system;
  • to perform safety analysis of the IFATS concepts and provide guidelines to certification issues
  • to identify the difficulties that need to be overcome in order to build such an ATS, in both the technical and cultural aspects
  • to find out an adequate level of automation for a future ATS
  • to analyse a procedure to migrate from the present situation to the future ATS.

Description of the work

The IFATS project starts with an inventory of the existing ATS and a comprehensive survey of concepts and envisaged technologies to increase its performance and safety in the future. Based on this, a clear set of functional requirements is derived and the IFATS concept options are defined fully, developing the innovative idea of automating the ATS.

Once defined, the concepts have to be comprehended and the best option has to be selected. To this end, a modelling of the normal operations of the system is made. Additionally, the emergency or critical flight situations including ground/on-board interactions and communication failures are considered in a second phase.

In parallel to this modelling task, the various aspects of airworthiness, air traffic control and certification of the IFATS concepts as a whole are addressed. An analysis of the safety aspects of the concepts is done in order to prove that they are airworthy and operationally certifiable, while keeping or even improving the existing level of safety for the aircraft, for the passengers and crew and for the other vehicles using the neighbouring airspace. An iterative work is planned with the concept definition task in order to adjust the design to have a system fully compliant with the safety requirements.

Simulation is then used for the validation of the selected IFATS concept. This is done through the modelling of the traffic with a level of detail and a geographical dimension to be determined. The simulation has first to prove that the system is able to cope with the traffic that is expected in the timeframe considered in the project. Then the limits of the system are looked for, through an increase of the simulated traffic up to the saturation of the various components of the overall system.

The study of the social impact brought by this major modification of the ATS organisation, together with a thorough cost analysis of IFATS, will complete the information needed to conclude the viability of the concept.

A user group is also installed to inform the ATS community about the developed concepts and recommendations, and to get a fast response as to whether the proposed ATS concept is practicable.

Expected results

As it is difficult to define the way the present ATS will be modified, the IFATS approach has been proposed: the extreme solution of a system without any pilots or controllers will be evaluated in order to derive a technically and socially acceptable concept solution.

The results expected from the project are a comprehensive view of what this extreme system solution could be and a clear understanding of its benefits and drawbacks. From this assessment, recommendations will be made for future research and development aiming at making possible an evolution of the present ATS towards a future one able to withstand the forecast traffic growth.