As the demand for air travel continues to rise, those in the aviation industry must work together and develop new technology in order to improve European airspace; meeting people’s desire to fly and at the same time, reducing the impact on our environment.

NATS has been working with partners across Europe as part of SESAR2020 to develop these technologies and earlier in the year we ran simulations with some of our controllers to see how they could help meet future demand. I sat down with Claire Pugh and Sarah Dow from the NATS R&D team to find out more.

Collaborative Control
Sarah Dow, Controller Optimisation Team Lead, R&D

Can you explain what this solution hopes to deliver?
We hope controllers will be able to issue instructions that allow aircraft to transit another sector of airspace without the level of coordination currently required between the two sectors.

What’s the problem with coordination between controllers?
Coordination between controllers can increase workload especially at critical times and in very busy sectors – reducing capacity and efficiency. It can also lead to delays, and means we can’t give aircraft the best and most-environmentally friendly flight profiles.

So with this in mind, how will your solution improve things?
This simulation aimed to reduce controller workload. It demonstrated this by showing that controllers can be helped by developing the necessary awareness to identify if another controller’s airspace sector can be used without coordination.

Specially developed tools were used to provide controllers with the awareness needed to separate their respective traffic in a safe and efficient way. The concept was validated in airspace of high complexity over the south east of England.

We also measured improvement to aircraft profiles, with the potential for more continuous climbs/descents, more direct tactical routings and reduced holding.

Did you feel these benefits were experienced during the simulation?
The results of the simulation have demonstrated the feasibility of the concept, with positive ATCO feedback on workload reduction. The new HMI design and tools have supported a reduction in coordination between controllers, improvement in situational awareness; and there were no safety incidents.

The main measure of success for us was how the controllers felt during the simulation; we had many say it was a positive experience and believe it has the potential to change and improve the current ATC system.

The simulations, part of SESAR 2020 Research project PROSA, ran over two weeks with representatives from SESAR partners including ENAIRE, DFS, INDRA, Skyguide and DLR attending briefings and demonstrations.

 Wake Turbulence Separation Optimisation
Claire Pugh, Optimised Separation Concepts Team Lead, R&D

What are you expecting to address during the development of this solution?
Wake vortices generated by aircraft are one of the main factors defining the safe distance between two aircraft during landing or take off; this obviously impacts the capacity at an airport.  We expect the research and development of this solution to address capacity and delays by safely reducing that separation, meaning we can use the runway more efficiently.

Why is this of interest to NATS?
We successfully implemented Enhanced Time-Based Separation (eTBS) for arrivals at Heathrow, and it is already yielding benefits in terms of reduced delays, particularly in bad weather, so our next step is to look at departures. We have been working to further reduce departure separations between aircraft at Heathrow using the latest EUROCONTROL wake vortex data and new controller tools to manage complex separations.

How do you test the theory? And what was the outcome?
 With eTBS successfully operating at Heathrow for the past year, we asked controllers from the airport to take part in a real-time simulation using the new data and tools to see if departure separations could be reduced.  Initial results show controller workload was reduced and capacity increased.

Alongside the work that NATS has been doing, further work in this area has been undertaken by other ANSPs, and together all results will be analysed to identify where improvements can be made. It is then for individual ANSPs to deploy it in their operation.

During the simulation, we hosted visitors from the SESAR Joint Undertaking and SESAR Solution partners, including EUROCONTROL, Heathrow Airport, IATA, British Airways and INDRA.

NATS is already deploying some of the technologies that have been developed through SESAR and we are committed to working together to constantly identify, develop and test future technology to meet people’s demand for flying.

We’ll be talking more about the technologies we’re developing and deploying over the next 12 months.

These projects received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.





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