Vision for the Human in the Future ATM System

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Vision for the Human in the Future ATM System

52ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Bali, Indonesia, 24-28 April 2013

WP No. 163

Vision for the Human in the Future ATM System

Presented by PLC


Modern ATM is in a state of constant change. These changes can be driven by advances in technology or changing economic conditions, which require fundamental changes in the way that the Human interacts with the ATM system. These changes drive the need to review and update policies and procedures, and also an organisation’s vision for the future.

This paper describes summarises several different vision statements from players in the ATM industry, and suggests a methodology to translate a revised vision statement into policy.


1.1  In 2012 the IFATCA SESAR/EASA Coordinator was asked at the SESAR Performance Partnership to (re-) write the Human Factor part of the European ATM Masterplan, and there was also a request made to create an HF roadmap for Single European Sky (SES). PLC was asked for advice and assistance in putting this Masterplan together. Furthermore they were asked to decide if there was added value in addressing some of the points raised to become either guidance material or policy for IFATCA at the global level, with a particular need to look at some of the automation guidance material in the IFATCA manual and whether a change management guide for the future of ATM should be included.

1.2  While the professional policies of IFATCA have very valuable information on change management and other topics related to Human Factors integration into change management, there is a lack of hands on “position” material which is a necessity under the SES.

1.3  In 2007 IFATCA published the Global Statement on the future of ATM where it said:

“The purpose of this document is to assist an understanding of where current Air Traffic Management (ATM) is, to provide a tool for gathering support of a particular approach and provide another step towards working together to create the future global Air Traffic Management that is needed”. (

1.3.1  WP 108/ Arusha 2008 introduced the idea to create a vision for the future of Air Traffic Management and explained why such a vision became necessary. Since then various updates on the work on the vision document have been given to directors and in 2012 a separate working group was tasked to look at a delivering a finalised document for conference 2013. The Executive Board has given guidance that rather than continuing to work on the vision document that the group should build on the statement for the future of ATM. The group’s goal was to present this vision document at the 2013 Annual conference in Bali.


“All members of the ATM Community should work together to have a shared vision of 25 years in the future. It should be completely updated every 10 years”. “The purpose of the vision statement is to agree and state the long-term objectives to permit research and development into possible ways of meeting that vision. It is to provide the next step after the target date for the current concept of operation. The vision statement should be expressed in terms of functionality – and never in terms of an existing technology, an existing protocol or an existing program; otherwise it will restrict understanding and potential options for meeting that vision”.

1.4  Following discussions within PLC it was decided that the work on the two projects could be combined into one work item;

  • To compare current IFATCA policy in the Technical and Professional manual, with the new Vision 2035 statement and identify by means of a roadmap where further work was required to bring the two into line.
  • Look at the points raised within the ATM Masterplan to determine whether new policy, or changes to existing IFATCA policy were required.

1.5  It has become clear however, that the Vision 2035 work was not going to be completed in time for conference 2013. It is now also understood that the ATM Masterplan will not be completed until June 2013. Consequently it was decided that the work item could not be completed as originally planned.

1.6  However, despite this lack of progress with these two work items, progress in ATM continues at a high pace. The requirement to develop a plan to update IFATCA policy is still there.

1.7  A summary of some of the varied vision statements from different parties within the ATM industry that have been carried out by a wide range of external parties, is outlined below.

1.8  This paper will also describe what a roadmap is and how it bridges the gap between a vision statement and existing policy.


2.1 The future role of the Human in ATC

2.1.1 Controllers will remember that there have been statements since the 1970’s that computers will replace air traffic controllers but these claims have been dismissed as fantasy. However things have changed over the thirty years since these statements were first made – and now even some of IFATCA’s experts on future ATM are warning that unless action is taken by controllers and service providers that controllers and service providers will be increasingly ignored and eventually (say by 2035) phased out.

2.1.2 In the meantime the outside world is looking for answers on many of the questions regarding the ATM system, including the Human in the system. For example, CANSO is presenting a working paper on change management and the Human element for change including human factors. A selection of different viewpoints is included below.

2.2 Single European skies

2.2.1 Contribution to the SES Expert Group of Social Dimension 28.5.2012

The 2010 Madrid Declaration identified that the Human Factor or the Human element is one of the most crucial elements for the success of Single European Sky. It introduced the notion of “5th Pillar” (Contribution to the SES Expert Group of Social Dimension 28.5.2012).  In the SES, the roadmap endorsed by the Madrid conference on Air transport held in February 2010, gave an overarching role to the human factor to play in the ATM policy and pointed out the need for specific consultation mechanism at Union level on social dimension in addition to the activities of the ATM sectoral Social Dialogue Committee.  The Madrid Declaration has been implemented through a draft decision creating an expert group on the social dimension of the SES giving the right to the social partners to be consulted on all Commission proposals having a significant social impact. The experts group will advise the Commission on issues such as exchange of practices and experience on mobility and training, change management, understaffing and better allocation of human resources, human factor and new generation of professional and performance within FAB  Although politically speaking this declaration is recognition of the need to involve the human being into the change process, there is certainly a need to be more consistent with definitions and words. The involvement of the human being in the change process is an overriding success factor for any changes, in particular in a socio- technological environment like air traffic management. Unfortunately the Madrid declaration and other documents refer to the Human Factor, which in aviation research and science terms means something different than most probably was meant by the decision makers in Madrid.  The human factor science talks about the involvement of the human (operator) in the socio-technological system and the impact of several influencing factors. The human element in the change process is something which is broader than the human factor and involves elements like exchange of practices, experience on mobility and training, change management, understaffing and better allocation of human resources.  It has been recognized that the association of the human is the most important element in this transformation process. The inclusion of the human operator as one of the pillars in the SES II is a significant and essential step to involve the whole spectrum of the human dimension in this important undertaking. Recent examples have shown that the operators are crucial to a sustainable growth of the aviation sector.

2.3 Input to revision process of the SESAR ATM Masterplan  There is no doubt that an increase in the level of automation is required in order to handle safely the expected traffic growth. Linked to this traffic increase is the need for the ATM-system to improve performance in terms of safety. A significant improvement of the level of safety of the ATM-system is needed in order to keep the overall accident rate – expressed in terms of flights, or accidents per flight-hours – that it can be held at the current level (or even be lowered). It is also required that the performance targets set-out by the political bodies are met.  The implementation of “automation”, meaning the development of automation tools for future ATM-System is thought to be the best way forward. But, it must also be understood that just automation alone will neither bring more safety, nor will this bring any significant improvement of the offered capacity. Virtually no gain in efficiency can be achieved by automation alone.  A modern ATM-system is a very complex multi-layered system, where humans, tools, machines and equipment, that all these components are acting and working in harmony together, using well adapted and fine-tuned procedures to control and operate safely the air traffic in a given airspace or region. It’s of great importance that a well-balanced approach is chosen for the implementation of such automation, and it must be ascertained that all components of the ATM-system are getting the required degree of attention and care.

2.3.2 It is important for the change of tools in the SESAR environment that a method is chosen which can be applied cross board for the introduction of new technology, operating procedures and human machine interface. This method has to outline and analyse the scope of the change, outline the stakeholder needs and the feasibility to introduce it within a given framework. Of particular importance in such a tool is that the needs for the implementation phase are clear to all the actors involved. A particular planning methodology has to outline the needs in staffing (above the normal ops), training needs (duration and numbers) and prepare sufficient resources for the administrative and regulatory requirement. The third element of this method is the implementation needs and transitional requirements which have to be planned with regard to regulatory needs, redundancy and revert back options. Only if a methodology like this is being introduced can a successful and accepted introduction of future system been put in place including the Human operators’ needs.

2.4 Chapter on the role of the human in SES Air Traffic Control (ATC) is one of the world’s youngest professions (Vidler Neil, “Under control – the story of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Association’s”, IFATCA, 2001). Like many modern professions, it has developed from the humblest beginnings into a highly sophisticated and technology dependent occupation. With ATC, there was no “big bang”. it was not discovered or invented but it has evolved gradually, driven by demand. Circumstances have dictated that it developed slightly differently from region to region, from country to country and even from city to city. The basic principles remain the same, however, whether one is using highly sophisticated synthetic radar displays and employing satellite communications, or making do with antiquated, procedural control methods. Once man became airborne in a heavier-than-air machine, his ingenuity and parallel developing technologies have permitted him to continually fly higher and faster. Much the same may be said of ATC. To safeguard the aviation scene, ATC has also employed developing technologies to manage the traffic. Unfortunately, the terrestrial developments have never kept pace with the airborne improvements. Despite the worst economic recession in 80 years the sector still faces continuous growth. This is primarily due to the fact that the world population will experience continuing growth, mostly in developing and emerging countries. By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9 to 10 billion people. Creating the proper balance between people-planet-profit (economical) has been a challenge for aviation industry since decades and will remain its major challenge for the decades to come. The aviation industry has a mathematical safety tolerance of 1×10-7 or expressed differently a disastrous accident is managed to 1 in 10’000’000:4 Like other ultra-safe macro-technical systems such as the nuclear industry or the European railroad system. Science talks about high risk industries, where the accidents are rare but potentially disastrous and where safety is strongly related to the human actor involved in creating, maintaining the system safe. As such high risk industries are among the most complex socio-technological living systems, the role and the importance of the role of the human operator should not be underestimated and needs to be included right from the beginning of the design and regulatory point of view.

2.5 ICAO ANC 2012 WP presented by IFATCA

The paper explored the role of the ATCO in future Air Traffic Management systems and the need to exploit the promise of automation, contending that safe system operation can only exist because of the effective role played by the humans working collaboratively with the system. A number of facets of automation human factors were presented including the accountability and responsibilities for humans as well as automated elements of the system, in the belief that there is a need for clear and unambiguous accountability.

The introduction states:

“Air Traffic Control systems have evolved to become more dependent upon technology to achieve the efficient control and management of air traffic. The future evolution of ATM is predicated on greater use of technology and significant use of ‘automation’ to enhance the ATM productive function bringing with it fundamental changes in how functional roles are undertaken and who will be the system actors that perform these functional roles”. “The application of automation that is envisaged in SESAR and NEXTGEN is more than just an extension of the degree or ‘level’ of automation being employed. What is proposed will increase the complexity of the ATM system over what is experienced today, and will not see just one automated’ system, but numerous sub-systems or networks of automation supporting a wider community of human actors to deliver new levels of system efficiency and network optimisation. This will make predicting the outcomes of system behaviour quite futile. The system becomes truly complex, and with it the attendant difficulty of assuring that the total system is safe”.

“Automation has the potential not only to provide advice to controllers of a series of potential solutions to a tactical problem (in the form of decision-making support), but also to provide a particular solution i.e. the technical systems makes the decision itself, and provides a range of options with which the human can use the system derived solutions. This can present a dilemma for the controller. If he/she follows the “suggested” course of action and an incident ensues, are they accountable? If the “suggestion” is not heeded, and another course of action results in a loss of separation are they held accountable?”

“A common strand of Air Traffic Management concepts of the future, are those that endorse the responsibility for control and separation of aircraft transferring from the air traffic controller to the pilot. This will fundamentally alter the role of the controller from one of active participation as a controller to that of being a monitor of this complex system processes”.

2.6 IATA’s vision IATA launched its 2050 vision statement at the 66th IATA General meeting in 2010. CEO Giovanni Bisagnani said:

“It is time to think big and to look beyond the cycles and shocks. Our duty is to work together to define a vision on which to build a sustainable future”. “Airlines need the freedom to build efficiencies across borders, better serve their customers, and achieve sustainable profits to fund growth and innovation”.

He stated that Infrastructure and air traffic management need to be reshaped around the needs of airlines, and looked to a future where airports paid airlines and ten ANSPs manage global traffic at half the current cost.

2.7 National regulator view  The UK civil aviation authority has set out its future airspace strategy, which is to establish:

“Safe, efficient airspace that has the capacity to meet reasonable demand, balances the needs of all users and mitigates the impact of aviation on the environment”

using three drivers; safety, capacity and the environment. The document details how the modernisation of the overall airspace system can be separated into five areas; Airspace Structure, Communication, Navigation, Surveillance and ATM Capability.  The following characteristics of the future strategy are proposed;

  • Routing based on ‘user preferred (4D) trajectories’;
  • Flexible, often dynamic, management of the airspace structure through Joint and Integrated (J&I), Civil/Military operations;
  • Co-operation with airspace users;
  • Greater cooperation and the increased use of systems and technology to safely manage additional complexity;
  • Simpler airspace structures integrated across National and FAB boundaries.  The policy recognises the difficulties with implementation of the strategy;

“Introducing user preferred trajectories and flexible/dynamic airspace structures will significantly increase the complexity of the overall route structure and airspace system”. “Although human input will remain fundamental to ATM, work already in-hand or envisaged within SESAR indicates that controllers‟ decision-making will be supported by advanced computer based tools that predict aircraft trajectories, de-conflict their routes and monitor aircraft conformance with the anticipated flight profile. Through the cooperative application of these tools, on the ground and in the air, it is envisaged that the majority of conflicts will be strategically managed minimising the need for tactical controller intervention. Controllers’ time will be freed up to focus on optimisation of the performance of the UK network and its key interfaces with Europe and the North Atlantic. In the future ‘systemised’ TMA environment, it is likely that the responsibility to ensure safe separation of aircraft will remain with the controllers, supported by tools. However in the upper en-route airspace, a ‘free route’ environment will allow implementation of aircraft self-separation, moving responsibility to the pilot and away from the controller. Such a fundamental shifting of responsibility from the current system will require careful management and will inevitably lead to regulatory changes and possibly need legal amendments to UK and international aviation law.”  In recognition of the issues, the report recommends;

“Further work is conducted to understand the impact of controller intervention in systemised high capacity airspace, including the cost, risk and human factors considerations”.

2.8 Existing policy

2.8.1  IFATCA currently has existing policies on the role of the human in ATC; these include policy on Change Management, Human Factors and Automation.

2.8.2  IFATCA currently has two documents which, in their own ways, describe its views for the future; ‘Statement on the future of global ATM by IFATCA’ published in February 2007, and also ‘IFATCA Vision Document (Towards the 21st Century)’.

2.9 Gap analysis

2.9.1 Once the work on the revised vision statements were completed, a review of current IFATCA policy would need to be undertaken, to determine where revisions or new policy was required. This could take the form of a roadmap.

2.10 Using a Roadmap

2.10.1  A roadmap is a plan that matches short-term and long-term goals with specific technology solutions to help meet those goals.

2.10.2  A popular approach being applied to long-range planning is to produce a roadmap to show the path to the future. Roadmaps and the process as a whole serve as excellent communications tools and an effective means to link strategic operations, collaborative ventures, and business plans. And to achieve success, roadmaps must show us our starting point and where we want to arrive via the right approach and with a specific level of detail.

2.10.3  Every roadmap begins with a strategic vision and a mission. The next step is to identify the capabilities required for the organization to achieve its missions in the future. These steps provide the information to access the gaps, opportunities, and links that are necessary for success.

2.10.4  A roadmap process is a means to connect vision, values, and objectives with strategic actions that are required to achieve these objectives. The development of a roadmap consists of a four-phase process:

  • Preliminary design and background activities: setting the framework, vision, timing, and organizational goals.
    In this phase we need to satisfy essential conditions, provide leadership and define the scope and boundaries for the roadmap.
  • Development of the roadmap itself. In this phase we need to identify the focus of the roadmap, the requirements and targets.
  • Follow up and implementation activities. At this point the roadmap must be critiqued, validated and accepted by the group that will be involved in any implementation. A plan needs to be developed using the roadmap.
  • An update phase because the resulting roadmap is not just a static document. In this step we need to choose a periodical review and update point.

2.11 What would a future statement need to address?

2.11.1 It is not considered to be within the remit of this paper to determine what areas would need to be addressed in any future statement on the future of ATM. However, it is suggested that input from all areas of aviation should be taken into account.


3.1. In 2007 IFATCA published the Global Statement on the future of ATM. WP 108/ Arusha 2008 introduced the idea to create a vision for the future of Air Traffic Management and explained why such a vision became necessary. A separate working group was tasked to look at a delivering a finalised document for conference 2013. It is now clear that the Vision work is not going to be completed in time for conference 2013.

3.2.  A request was made to the IFATCA SESAR/EASA Coordinator to create an HF roadmap for Single European Sky (SES), and to (re-)write the Human Factor part of the European ATM Masterplan. It is understood that the ATM Masterplan will not be completed until June 2013.

3.3.  The outside world is looking for answers on many of the questions regarding the ATM system, including the Human in the system. A number of different parties within the Aviation industry have produced vision statements in recent months.

3.4.  In addition to the future statement, a roadmap should be developed to connect this vision, with strategic actions that are required to achieve these objectives.


4.1. It is recommended that;

The IFATCA Executive Board should urgently review its current statement for the future of ATM. This vision document should be presented at the 2014 Annual conference.


Contribution to the SES Expert Group of Social Dimension 28.5.2012.

Amalberti R., The paradoxes of almost totally safe transport systems, in Safety Science 37 (2001) 109-126.

Vidler Neil, “Under control – the story of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Association’s”, IFATCA, 2001.

Appendix A – Example of Issue-The Human Factor in the next generation ATM system


As we are in a transition phase from a skill or craft of air traffic control to a science of air traffic management there is a need to have the human factors addressed in a very prominent way during the research and development phase.

SEE as well working paper for ANC 2012 on Automation from IFATCA. IFATCA Policy is:

Automation must improve and enhance the data exchange for controllers. Automated systems must be fail-safe and provide accurate and incorruptible data. These systems must be built with an integrity factor to review and crosscheck the information being received.

The Human Factors aspects of Automation must be fully considered when developing automated systems.

Automation must assist and support ATCOs in the execution of their duties.

The controller must remain the key element of the ATC system.

Total workload should not be increased without proof that the combined automated/ human systems can operate safely at the levels of workload predicted, and to be able to satisfactorily manage normal and abnormal occurrences.

Automated tools or systems that support the control function must enable the controller to retain complete control of the control task in such a way so as to enable the controller to support timely interventions when situations occur that are outside the normal compass of the system design, or when abnormal situations occur which require non- compliance or variation to normal procedures.

Automation should be designed to enhance controller job satisfaction.

The legal aspects of a controller’s responsibilities must be clearly identified when working with automated systems.

See: WP 74 – Port of Spain 1991, WP 155 – Santiago 1999 and WP 174 – Geneva 2001

See also: WP 94A – Tunis 1996

A Controller shall not be held liable for incidents that may occur due to the use of inaccurate data if he is unable to check the integrity of the information received.A Controller shall not be held liable for incidents in which a loss of separation occurs due to a resolution advisory issued by an automated system.

See: WP 128 – Christchurch 1993

Guidelines and procedures shall be established in order to prevent incidents occurring from the use of false or misleading information provided to the controller.

See: WP 159 – Dubrovnik 2009 and WP 155 – Marrakech 2000

See also: WP 143 – Ottawa 1994

Global Statement

Chapter 3 Humans and Technology.


Local/Regional Implementation;

Airports will be controlled from a remote facility (virtual towers);

Completely automated separation provision.

Last Update: September 30, 2020  

April 22, 2020   676   Jean-Francois Lepage    2013    

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