1 February 2023
Executive Director of the SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking
[Cleared n°1 - anno XX - January 2023]
With a long experience in the European institutions but with a fresh perspective on the SESAR 3 JU’s activities, what are your views on the impact of innovation on air traffic management?
Indeed, I have worked for many years in the European Commission actively shaping policy and following legislation on aviation, such as the Single European Sky, as well as managing financial support to the deployment of SESAR solutions via the Connecting Europe Facility. I believe that aviation provides enormous benefits to Europe’s citizens and the economy by enabling freedom of movement, travel and trade within Europe and beyond. But those benefits are at risk partly because the infrastructure, in particular air traffic management (ATM) that underpins aviation, has hit its capacity limits in some European areas, resulting in growing delays and unnecessary emissions. Forecasts show that air traffic will grow over the next years, as is the number and diversity of air vehicles seeking access to the airspace. The current infrastructure is just not equipped to handle this. As we face now a growing climate crisis, the need for action is as clear as it is urgent. We are confident that through innovation we can deliver a Digital European Sky that supports smarter, more sustainable, connected and accessible air transport for all.
How exactly will technology bring about this transformation?
Air traffic management is a 24/7 business that must operate night and day whatever the traffic and the conditions. The system is designed to ensure safety. With advances in technology, we can make a progressive yet fundamental shift from today’s bespoke and physically-based systems, towards more modular, service-oriented applications, enabling greater data exchange and connectivity between air traffic control centres, airports and other actors in the transport system. In support of the EU’s ‘Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy' and the ‘Europe fit for the digital age’ initiative, we are investigating multiple technology pathways, from satellite technologies, supported by EGNOS/Galileo, and virtualisation, to artificial intelligence and augmented reality. For example, today’s air traffic management remains by and large manual, relying on controllers to ensure the safe separation of traffic. However, with its repetitive tasks generating huge amounts of data, air traffic management is an ideal candidate for greater automation. Our research projects are designing applications that use machine learning and big data to analyse traffic patterns, better predict trends and disruptions and propose more efficient routes, freeing up controllers to focus on safety-critical tasks or handle more complex traffic situations.
Aviation community is focussing increasingly on environment, what is SESAR role in this area?
A move to sustainable aviation fuel sources is undoubtedly where the aviation sector will be able to make the largest inroad into decarbonising its operations, but it is not the only area where efficiencies can be made. Matching the ambitions of the European Green Deal, our research and innovation is showing how emissions savings, albeit smaller, can be achieved in the shorter term by introducing new technologies and procedures into air traffic management. For instance, even before it takes off, a taxiing aircraft has already burned an estimated 200 Kg of jet fuel resulting in 600 Kg of CO2 emissions. We are investigating new greener taxiing techniques that could reduce aircraft fuel consumption on the ground by between 50% and 85%. Once airborne, further emission savings can be achieved by optimising vertical flight profiles to enable continuous climb and descent operations (CCO and CDO) using minimum engine thrust. A 2018 EUROCONTROL study estimates that that in Europe the potential savings from optimising CCO and CDO are up to 340,000 tonnes fuel/year, (1.1M tonnes CO2/150M EUR). CO2 is not the only area of concern; evidence suggests that aviation’s non-CO2 emissions are in fact having a greater impact on the climate than CO2. Research shows that rerouting aircraft around climate-sensitive areas can reduce the warming effect of these emissions dramatically, so we are looking at models and applications that can support such operations.
How important is collaboration to the delivering on the SESAR vision?
Collaboration is the linchpin. No one organisation or country can bring about this digital transformation alone. It requires close cooperation between all the stakeholders that contribute to air traffic management, from the European and national decision-makers that regulate it, the organisations and staff that operate it, to the academic and industry stakeholders that research, design and manufacture it. With the establishment of the SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking in late 2021, we have the means to coordinate all the stakeholders, pooling the critical mass of resources and expertise needed to deliver the Digital European Sky. Compared to our predecessor, our membership is bigger and broader reflecting the diversity of today’s aviation landscape but also signalling the growing will of stakeholders to join forces in order to deliver change.
We are extremely fortunate to have ENAV as a founding member of the SESAR partnership, a company which shares our strategic vision for the future of ATM and is committed to pushing the boundaries of innovation. ENAV’s testing facilities and expertise are a key SESAR innovation asset. With them, SESAR solutions can be developed and rigorously validated in operational conditions, providing the necessary assurances to stakeholders before deployment.
How can we better link the different phases of the ATM cycle, in particular with a stronger focus on deployment of new tools and procedures from ATM Research and Validation activities?
We have already delivered close to 150 SESAR solutions, many of which are in deployment. They bring benefits to the aviation sector in Europe in terms of safety, capacity, efficiency and environment. We are delighted to see ENAV at the forefront of these modernisation efforts, implementing a wide range of solutions from our catalogue, ranging from digital remote towers to free route, as part of it national airspace strategy. The SESAR 3 JU will invest another EUR 1.6 billion in new research projects. The new structure of our research and innovation programme means that we can deliver solutions much sooner. Considering the urgency of the situation, our aim is to accelerate the digital transformation so our focus initially will be showing at scale, through very large-scale demonstrators, the benefits of a number of quick wins already ready for deployment and engaging with stakeholders to get moving on their implementation.
How important will be the Master Planning process and what will be the major added value for stakeholders?
The European ATM Master Plan, the roadmap for ATM modernisation in Europe, is critical to transforming the industry and meeting the environmental goals of the European Green Deal. By bringing every aviation stakeholder to the table, the plan provides strong consensus on the vision, research and development, and deployment priorities, and where and when investments should be made to deliver the Digital European Sky. Later this year, we plan to update the Master Plan to ensure that we have a clear path on how to establish Europe as the most environmentally friendly sky to fly in the world and reflects any significant evolutions in the aviation technology landscape.