SESAR – the Single European Sky ATM Research programme – has been a major focus for Europe’s aviation industry over the last 10 years.
Whilst technology is only one part of the change required if we’re going to achieve the objectives of the European Commission’s Single European Sky project, it’s a vitally important one.
Europe’s airspace is a lot busier now than it was when many of the current systems and airspace management concepts in place today were developed; as the data visualisation of European air traffic we produced shows, Europe’s airspace is already fairly congested and complex and traffic is expected to grow.
Putting in place a system that will enable us to safely manage this traffic at the same time as delivering cost savings for customers and minimising the environmental impact of aviation is a real challenge, but fundamental to European success in the wider global aviation market.
The SESAR Deployment Manager, which is expected to be appointed in the coming months, is going to have a core role in ensuring the benefits of SESAR concepts get rolled out across Europe and that deployments are prioritised based on expected benefits for customers. It’s a really important role and it’s important that it is governed in a way that puts industry at the heart of SESAR deployment.
But there’s still an interesting question in my mind around whether, if the deployment of SESAR was incentivised as it would be in a marketplace, airlines would have seen the benefits of SESAR concepts in operation sooner. If there was competition for the market then service providers would have a very real incentive to respond to the demand from their customers to innovate and deploy new concepts of operation in order to ensure they either won, or at least didn’t lose, business.
Viewing airspace users as customers is at the heart of this and I know it’s not a universally accepted concept in the ATM industry yet. It does change the way you operate though – we’ve brought forward the deployment of TBS at Heathrow to next year because our customers told us just how important it was to them. It might make relatively little difference to how we do against the regulatory targets of the SES Performance Scheme, but it will make a big difference to our customers.
SESAR is at a transition point and it’s great that we’re about to head into a phase that will take SESAR from R&D to operational delivery. We know that the sooner we can get SESAR concepts in to operation the sooner our customers will start seeing the benefits, and of course we’ll be working with them and through SESAR to deliver benefits to our customers at the earliest opportunity. But it’s an interesting point of reflection to consider whether the incentives of a marketplace for ATM would have delivered the benefits of SESAR any quicker.
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