Tackling the existing fragmentation of European airspace and realising the vision of a Single European Sky requires a whole host of activities – from political breakthroughs to rolling out new technologies.
One of those areas of technology is the introduction of a new communications network service that will make it easier to exchange information both between ANSPs, and between ANSPs and the Eurocontrol Network Manager (NM), which provides many key Air Traffic Management (ATM) services within Europe.
Sharing information between ANSPs and the NM over a common network is really important as we look to improve the efficiency of how we manage Europe’s airspace and cope with predicted future demand. The pan-European network service (PENS) is a modern ground-to-ground communications network, which was jointly developed by Eurocontrol and ANSPs to provide a common network service for voice and data communications.
PENS enables its users to exchange ATM information in a seamless and integrated manner and provides a cost-effective network that makes it easier to share information across borders – which will be really important as we introduce more cross-border applications.
NATS has taken a leading role in this area and earlier this year we became the first ANSP to operate an operational ANSP service using PENS when the FMTP connection between our control centre at Swanwick and the Maastricht Upper Area Centre (MUAC) was introduced into service.
This was a major milestone for PENS, enabling these centres to exchange flight data securely using Internet Protocol v6 (IPv6). Since then, we’ve worked closely with a number of other partners, particularly our fellow ANSPs within the A6 Alliance, and our fifth operational FMTP connection was successfully transitioned into service over PENS earlier this week, enabling Prestwick Centre to exchange coordination and transfer messages with Stavanger ACC in Norway.
As well as supporting some of the Network Manager’s key functions, PENS supports vital ANSP services between various Air Traffic Services Units, such as Flight Message Transfer Protocol (FMTP) for the exchange of coordination and transfer messages (On-Line Data Exchange – OLDI); ATS Message Handling System (AMHS) – for the exchange of aeronautical information such as flight plans; Surveillance – for the exchange of radar data between ANSPs; and Voice over IP (VoIP) – for voice communications between Area Control Centres (ACCs).
It also aims to significantly reduce the costly and fragmented networks implemented using the legacy communication protocols (such as X.25) that are still widely used by ANSPs. So PENS touches on and assists a whole host of essential ATM functions, as well as enabling cost reductions.
Eurocontrol and the ANSPs such as ourselves have been working together to evolve PENS to meet the future ATM requirements in Europe to enable significant cost savings for the ATM community. Today, PENS provides an operational network service to over a dozen ANSPs and other ANSPs are planning to join. These technological changes are a really important part of transforming the way we manage Europe’s airspace and bringing about a Single European Sky.
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