With traffic reaching unprecedented levels and forecast to continue growing in the years to come, it’s vital that we maximise our airspace capacity. Understanding the traffic demand is essential to achieving this. Without an accurate demand forecast, it’s challenging to make best use of the resources – particularly staff, airspace and sector configurations – that help deliver that capacity.

Traffic demand through our airspace is subject to a number of variables, such as weather, changing demand, and capacity availability and cost (the route charge in a country’s airspace) across the wider network. The influence and interaction between these variables creates a dynamic demand picture that can be complex to forecast with accuracy, whether months before the day of operation, or on the day itself.

Through SESAR, NATS is working with European partners signed up to the Single European Sky Initiative to improve how operational data is shared. Advanced Demand Capacity Balancing (DCB) builds on the improvements made in SESAR 1, in terms of accurate and reliable data, and focuses on ensuring information is shared to deliver a more predictable network, enabling us to better match capacity to demand.

DCB relies on a new means of information sharing – System Wide Information Management (SWIM) – to share trajectory data between aviation stakeholders, for example airports, airlines, military, and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs).

Having more accurate demand information from the planning phases  will allow us to plan more effectively and gives us a better chance of enabling a smooth transit through our airspace. It also enables our planning to be incorporated into the Europe-wide Network operation, thereby contributing to greater predictability within the network.

Whilst our operational set-up will be tuned to match the operational environment that is anticipated based on the data shared, there will inevitably be issues to manage on the day of operation itself. The use of more tactical measures such as STAM (Short Term Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management) to fine-tune demand or target high complexity trajectories is reliant on and will benefit from the same DCB processes. The sharing of real-time operational data enables ANSPs to manage a DCB imbalance, and where feasible, still provide opportunity for input from other stakeholders to identify solutions that work as well as possible for everyone involved.

Sharing of trajectory data between organisations will allow us to take into account the different priorities of each stakeholder and factor them into the decision-making process. It should also provide much better predictability for all stakeholders, with gains in efficiency and effective resource usage as a result. For the airspace user, such efficiency improvements mean flight trajectories can be optimised to try and meet the individual user’s priority. For NATS it means we’re able to make best use of our resources at a time when demand is growing and forecast to continue to grow.

Research is already underway, with validation exercises to be carried out in the next 12-18 months to test the concept and how it might work in the operation.

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