Safety in ATM Operations Perspective Blog

Safety in ATM Operations, Policy and Technology: When the Rubber Hits the Runway

Chris Metts, Vice President, Global Aviation and ATM, Harris Corporation, on Air Traffic Management safety
Dec 13, 2017

As air traffic management (ATM) around the globe begins to broaden its horizons, the technologies enabling it must be on the same pathway as the policies and procedures that maintain safety. By using technology to provide a higher degree of safety, the aviation community can harness its benefits and share best practices to meet global initiatives.

Enabling safer operations via the cockpit

The flight path to safe, effective ATM enabled by technological advances is already used by organizations across the globe. Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) is a success story both in the Asia-Pacific region and in the United States. By transitioning from voice communications to text-based messaging, pilots get access to more accurate information during pre-departure and en route more quickly, saving valuable time and fuel. This means passengers reach their destinations more quickly and airports are safer with less congestion.

The need for better information sharing

System Wide Information Management (SWIM) is also a technology enabler that enhances safety. Through SWIM, organizations share information and can help fill gaps in coverage such as incomplete flight plan information or location while providing an extra layer of safety. Giving the aviation industry access to data not previously available makes the operation safer. SWIM makes a flight visible via situational awareness tools, versus kept on track by just by voice communications between controllers.

Better information sharing is the lynchpin to meeting the safety and efficiency needs of a quickly growing, global ATM industry. Without solutions such as SWIM that address information gaps, additional risk is introduced into the system as airports and skies become more crowded.

Looking ahead: Exceeding the standards for global ATM through global initiatives

With sustained air traffic growth comes the need for an intricate system to help meet the demands of modern ATM. To satisfy this need, organizations like ICAO are leading the way with initiatives like the Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBUs), a framework outline for global ATM harmonization, to help Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) cope with increased demand.

ANSPs across the globe are working to bridge these policy and technology gaps in tandem. CPDLC, SWIM and other technologies such as extended arrival management and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), net-centric voice communication systems represent the gateway to achieving truly safe and efficient air traffic management. With these advances, collaboration between all aviation community stakeholders is where the rubber really hits the runway. As technology is only the start of a solution, there must be commitment to collaboration to achieve benefits and promote safety.

By looking outside an organization's Flight Information Regions (FIRs) and working together with the global ATM community through networks like CANSO, new levels of safety and efficiency can be achieved together. Partnering with industry providers to help implement newer technologies gives ANSPs a new-found flexibility with their policies and procedures, pushing them ahead of proposed timelines such as the ICAO ASBUs or FAA NextGen.