Weekly Review #232 - Ready for takeoff: awaiting AI's arrival in ATM

Picture of Vincent Lambercy
Posted by Vincent Lambercy

Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be everywhere these days. But what about AI in air traffic management? As a software engineer at heart, I sometimes find it frustrating when it comes to ATM and modern technologies. The industry is a slow adopter, for good reason. And the use of AI in daily operations will still not happen any time soon. However, many innovations use AI in one way or another.

Several of our partners are active at research and prototype level. EUROCONTROL is one of the leaders. Their regular Fly AI forums, organised in cooperation with various partners, are a great place to get the pulse of the industry. EUROCAE also has a working group on AI in aviation, and even IFATCA is active on the topic, ensuring that the voice of ATCOs is taken into account.

AI has several use cases in ATM. Maintaining separation, analysing video data in real time, detecting hazardous situations on the ground, and so on. But it can also listen to voice transmissions, extract data, or even help detect cyber threats early. This is something we have discussed in various episodes of our podcast, Radar Contact:

We also discussed Machine Learning (ML), a subpart of AI, in the LORD use-case by EUROCONTROL in our episode with Sebastiaan de Stigter. Even if it’s not happening in real-time, there is always some level of ML in configuring the systems.

AI will come to ATM. But we have to be patient. As with any change, it will be introduced gradually in a way that guarantees safety and is properly assessed. This takes time...

By the way, many of the companies mentioned above will be present at Airspace World in Geneva in two weeks. So take a look, and if you want to meet there, don't hesitate to contact me.


ANSP news

  • Taking flight: progressing the path to modernise UK airspace - NATS Blog - Last year marked a pivotal step on the path to modernise UK airspace when West Airspace Deployment was implemented after four years of development. Covering an area twice the size of Portugal, 54,000 sq nm of airspace over southwest England and Wales was transformed through two concurrent airspace changes above 7,000ft and 24,500ft Free Route Airspace. West is the most complex airspace change project NATS has ever implemented and marked a major step towards more efficient air travel in the UK.
  • HungaroControl - Navigating the UTM Horizon: Turning Challenges into Opportunities - The implementation of Unmanned Traffic Management systems poses a unique set of challenges that ANSPs must navigate to ensure the safe and efficient integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into airspace. As the demand for drone operations continues to rise, ANSPs play a pivotal role in addressing challenges, requiring proactive measures to establish comprehensive UTM solutions that prioritize safety, reliability, and scalability.
  • Small airspace improvements that deliver big benefits - NATS Blog - Over the past few years, the Operational Service Enhancements Project (OSEP) has been quietly but significantly transforming airspace operations, culminating in tangible benefits for both operational efficiency and the environment.
  • Austro Control among the best employers in Austria - Austro Control has received two awards based on indenpendent surveys for being an outstanding employer in Austria.
  • Airservices Australia launches nation’s first purpose-built digital air traffic control service at Western Sydney International Airport - Western Sydney International Airport will operate as a digitised aerodrome, with more than 20 high-resolution cameras monitoring the airport and immediate airspace and beaming real-time vision to a centralised control room. Airservices is partnering with technology providers CDC and Frequentis Australasia to develop the Digital Aerodrome Service at WSI using internationally proven, state-of-the-art technology that provides more information and greater situational awareness to air traffic controllers.

Airports news

  • Validation system for virtual tower at Munich Airport - The system to validate a virtual tower is being set up at the DFS branch at Munich Airport. This is intended to determine the potential of such solutions for hub airports and make them ready for deployment. The system is to support complex operations including mixed approaches and departures, and independent parallel runway operations
  • Heathrow Airport signs deal to extend use of NATS’ capacity technology - Strategic ACM is a technology enabled service that utilises advanced analytics – such as modelling and simulation – to create operations insights. The tool works by creating a digital twin of an airport to support critical runway scheduling decisions, enabling the airport and airlines to optimise schedules and ensure resilient and efficient operations. Evolving airline fleet mixes, constrained airport slot capacity and operating restrictions makes this a complex task at any airport, let alone the UK’s busiest and most capacity constrained.
  • Thailand plans to boost main airport capacity - Thailand aims to accommodate more than 150 million passengers per year at its main Bangkok airport in efforts to become a regional transportation and aviation hub. With additional runways and passenger terminal expansion, the Thai capital's Suvarnabhumi Airport is expected to more than double its current capacity of 60 million passengers annually by 2030, handling up to 120 flights per hour.

Market news

  • USAF Renews ATC Tower Simulation System Contract with Adacel - Adacel announced that it has been granted a new contract by the United States Air Force to continue its long-standing service provision for the USAF’s Tower Simulator System program. The contract specifies a base year period of performance and an option to extend for four additional years, prolonging Adacel’s support though to the end February 2029.
  • Saab and Thales sign ATM MOU for Singapore - CANSO - Saab and Thales have announced the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding to support the long-term innovation and modernisation of Singapore’s Air Traffic Management infrastructure.
  • ANS CR has chosen the advanced voice quality assurance system from Rohde & Schwarz - Air Navigation Services of the Czech Republic has chosen the R&S AVQA advanced voice quality assurance system from Rohde & Schwarz to ensure the highest level of service quality across their IP-network. This cutting-edge solution will enable ANS CR to monitor and control their voice communication network, ensuring uninterrupted and crystal-clear communication for air traffic control. This solution will enable ANS CR to monitor and control their voice communication network, ensuring uninterrupted and crystal-clear communication for air traffic control.
  • Indra and EDGE Group sign an agreement to develop and manufacture next-generation radars in UAE - EDGE Group formalised a new Joint Venture (JV) agreement with Indra. The agreement will see the new Abu Dhabi-based JV develop and manufacture next-generation radar systems in the UAE, opening a pipeline of orders for approximately 300 advanced radar solutions.

Context information

  • 2023 'safest year for flying' by several parameters: IATA - In its ‘2023 Annual Safety Report’ for global aviation, IATA said aviation continues to make progress on safety with several 2023 parameters showing “best-ever” results. There were no hull losses or fatal accidents involving passenger jet aircraft in 2023, IATA noted Wednesday. However, there was a single fatal accident involving a turboprop aircraft, resulting in 72 fatalities. There were 37mn aircraft movements in 2023 (jet and turboprop), an increase of 17% on the previous year.
  • ATM/ANS Workforce — Air Traffic Controller (ATCO) fatigue - EASA - As part of its work on the human dimension of the SES, and to complement its various initiatives related to the licensing and training of air traffic controllers, the EASA launched, end 2022, a study on 'ATCO Fatigue'. A consortium led by NLR and Welbees was commissioned to collect scientific data on the workload and fatigue of ATCOs employed at ATSPs that provide services in the EASA Member States.

Research and innovation

  • Space Traffic Integration - AT-One - The commercialisation of spaceflight is raising the number of space activities worldwide and space vehicles are increasingly traversing the airspace in which air traffic operates. In order to meet the commercial interests of aviation and aerospace in the future, the integration of spacecraft into the existing air transport system is becoming more and more important. By establishing a Launch-Coordination Center (LCC), DLR will develop tools for a “launch-on-demand” and by this contribute to the safe and efficient integration of spacecraft.
  • Greater Orlando Airport Authority & Embry-Riddle Team up to Explore Potential Advanced Air Mobility Impact on Airspace - The project, which uses advanced simulation modeling, is a collaboration between the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which operates and manages Orlando International Airport; Embry-Riddle’s College of Aviation; and the university’s Center for Aerospace Resilient Systems. The study will consider how to increase safety and air traffic flow efficiency with the integration of AAM aircraft into existing airport operations.