IFATCA’s Vision for the future of Air Traffic Management (ATM)

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IFATCA’s Vision for the future of Air Traffic Management (ATM)

47TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Arusha, Tanzania, 10-14 March 2008

WP No. 108

IFATCA’s Vision for the future of Air Traffic Management (ATM)

Presented by the Executive Board


1.1. In the late 1980’s IFATCA produced a glossy publication of its vision of ATM and it was referred to as the “vision document”. In 2004 the Executive Board (EB) identified the need to review not only this document but also our vision of future of ATM as seen from a period which had seen many rapid changes in ATM and which indicated that our view had also changed. To address this an ATM Future Task Force was created.

1.2. This team of several IFATCA experts and specialists looked at the possibility to define the future of ATM. After 2 years of work some avenues have been explored although it was difficult to come up with a clear statement which fitted our needs. Through our involvement in SESAR we have identified that there is a need to translate the ATM Concept of ICAO into some clearer messages which encapsulate the views of the controllers. Andrew Beadle previous EVP Technical and current member of ICAO ATMRPP through his knowledge of the ICAO concept was instrumental in creating and reviewed by others, the IFATCA Statement on the future of Global ATM. This document was first released in February 2007 and has been of invaluable help and assistance in the work on SESAR but as well in some of the strategic discussions we held in the technical domain.

1.3. In October 2007 IFATCA held a workshop ahead of the European Regional Meeting called “Quo Vadis? This workshop examined future directions in Air Traffic Management and included a presentation on IFATCA’s Future ATM Statement.

1.4. After the production of the Statement on the future of Global ATM the need was felt that IFATCA should establish a vision for the future of ATM from this statement. This vision document shall outline in short and clearly formulated statements what we expect to happen in ATM with a time horizon of 2030.


2.1. IFATCA’s need for a new vision for the time horizon 2030

The IFATCA Statement on the future of Global ATM recommends cooperation by having a shared vision for 25 years in the future, a shared concept for 15 years in the future and shared performance plans 5 yearly. There are a number of concepts available, such as the Global ATM Operational Concept (ICAO Doc 9854), SESAR and NEXTGEN Concepts, etc. however there are few documents that provide a long-term expectation (or vision). A VISION might be seen as revolutionary from the knowledge currently available. As with any long term prediction, elements listed in this vision might not take place or the expected outcome might not be realised. A long-term vision document should not attempt to explain exactly how the functionalities will be achieved (as this will be done in the shorter term concept document). The purpose of the vision document is to describe the expected trend in developments and so prepare for them. IFATCA’s vision document shall show what we the global voice of air traffic controllers expect will happen.

2.2. The EB wishes to start the debate with directors on the need to establish a vision and the content in order to be able to show where we are heading towards in ATM. This vision could include potential forecasts and ideas from all the aviation stakeholders.

2.3. The EB sees the need that we establish a potential vision of the future in order to be able to adapt our long term activities in the technical and professional domain into our policies. With the Statement on the future of Global ATM, IFATCA explains the impact a more performance based ATM will have on the current operations and how the ICAO ATM Concept foresees this transition process.

2.4. The idea behind creating a vision is that we are part of the change process and can contribute to the performance expectation for the future of the global ATM.

2.5. PCX together with Andrew Beadle, the author of the Statement on the future of Global ATM have discussed a potential vision which IFATCA could establish and have come up with a list (which is not complete and serves as a starting point). This list is a mix of our own expectations, users’ expectations and the vision transpiring from the works on the master plans in Europe (SESAR) and the US (NEXTGEN).

2.6. The Vision

  • The whole ATM system will be performance based, and changes based on performance cases (which includes safety cases). This will result in an overall system that is effectively in continuous transition. Areas where high performance is required will be advancing to newer systems before areas with less performance needs have commenced initial transition. There will be a need for continuous performance improvements.
  • A high level of automation will be required in meeting the highest ATM performance requirements. Controllers will be able to delegate tasks to automation, and in some systems the task will have been assigned to automation in the design of the system. This will include housekeeping tasks such as communication, coordination, surveillance, etc. In the more advanced systems it will also include delegating separation responsibility to automation. The controller will need to have a high confidence in the automation as it will not be physically possible for the controller to “double-check” what the automation is doing.
  • Air Traffic control (reactive, tactical) will be replaced by Air Traffic Management (proactive, strategic). The controller will manage traffic flows and in the more advanced systems not separate anymore (the task will be delegated). Active intervention (tactical) will be the exception. The human will remain in the loop at the network (systemic) decision making level.
  • Management by Trajectory will form the basis of all controllers’ activities. Trajectories will be as precise as traffic demands; that is variable over the length of the flight and in each of the four dimensions. For example, precision levels of time keeping of less than 10 seconds are expected where the ATM resource (for example runway) is in highest demand.
  • Airspace will be dynamic (move around). Airspace boundaries will change to suit traffic flows, even in the terminal area. Airspace attributes will also change over the course of a day in response to ATM services needed (or not). Traditional distinctions between terminal and enroute will disappear. There may be more than one service provider for a given airspace block. Controllers may be responsible for a given set of aircraft as the set progresses (as opposed to all aircraft within an airspace block).
  • UAV in non-segregated airspace.
  • Local/Regional Implementations. The following list of changes will not be implemented globally by 2030 but it will be expected that there will be a number of such implementations around the globe.
    • Airports will be controlled from a remote facility (virtual towers).
    • Completely automated separation provision. In other words the separator is not the controller or the pilot but is in fact automation.
  • Less controllers needed. This has been the universal claim of all “advances” in ATM, however because it has not been achieved in the past does not mean it cannot be achieved in the future. IFATCA needs to assess each claim on its merits and may well find that by 2030 there is a significant change in the number of controllers required.

2.7. It is the aim after a debate on the future vision of ATM by IFATCA to start to explain these various elements in the form of educational material to our members but also to the rest of the aviation community. IFATCA became aware that not many stakeholders (internal and external) understand properly what is at stake and more explanation and understanding of the various approaches is required.

2.8. We have found that the outside world might have a greater understanding of what we have written in the Global statement than within IFATCA. It is recognised that communication of the IFATCA Statement may not have been conducted well enough to enable all members to fully understand the ramifications of what outcomes the Statement wishes to deliver. What has to be communicated to the MAs and our experts is that the change will be drastic and that we have to be prepared to for this. In order to address this failure and to reduce a possible negative impact of the publication of our vision inside IFATCA a possible Technical Newsletter is being proposed.

2.9. There is a need to provide in-depth explanation for each and every one of these statements with in order that the vision can be understood and that IFATCA can continue to work on policies required and participate in the creation of new procedures to manage the transition from today’s ATM system to that of the future.

As an example: The controller will manage traffic flows and not separate anymore.

Managing the flow of traffic and giving instruction to the system which will resolve the conflicts. The controller’s role will not be a simple monitor of the system but will instead be an active decision maker that determines how the traffic will flow. A scenario will be established which will cater for the flows of traffic along a given route. The machine will run in pre-tactical and tactical several scenarios and will give the operator the choice of the best scenario. Once the scenario is established the realization of it will be carried out by automated systems. To be compared to some of the automated stock exchanges – where the humans are giving the indicators and then the trading is done automatically and not influenced by the operator anymore. This example is interesting as it shows that there is an absolute need not to forget that there will be problems with run-away programs that did not anticipate the consequences correctly (that is the automated stock market “crash” – which has since been corrected). There might be a need for policy on these issues in the future.


3.1. IFATCA wishes to create a vision document with a time horizon 2030 in order to explain the drastic changes waiting around the corner from the controller perspective. Also it wishes to educate all the stakeholders in aviation on this vision.

3.2. The purpose of the vision document is that having agreed what the future is expected to be in broad terms that the Federation can plan how best to deal with such significant changes. There are unanswered questions within future ATM and if IFATCA can propose viable understandable solutions then the Federation can have significant influence in the implementation of some of these concepts.

3.3. Directors are requested to give their advice on this process and are invited to give input to the current list of points in paragraph 2.6.

Draft Recommendations

4.1. That conference instructs the EB to continue with this process following input from Directors and updates conference 2009 on the progress achieved.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

December 21, 2019   745   Jean-Francois Lepage    2008    

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