SWIM Technical and Legal Issues

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SWIM Technical and Legal Issues

54TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Sofia, Bulgaria, 20-24 April 2015

WP No. 85

SWIM Technical and Legal Issues

Presented by TOC


System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) is the programme to create a network where Flight Data Objects will be shared through all the actors who participate in the business and operations of a flight. This is intended to augment the awareness of ATCOs as to create efficiency in airspace and time management. In this working paper, a description of the principles will be given together with some technical and legal issues considerations.


“Information. The ATM community will depend extensively on the provision of timely, relevant, accurate, accredited and quality-assured information to collaborate and make informed decisions. Sharing information on a system-wide basis will allow the ATM community to conduct its business and operations in a safe and efficient manner.” (ICAO Doc 9854 AN/458)


2.1. SWIM concept

2.1.1. Information is the pillar of any ATM activity, and getting accurate and timely information to all of the air traffic players is essential to performance. The flow of information in today’s ATM is limited. A primary issue is that there are often numerous systems gathering and processing data independently, and the transfer of data between these systems is often problematic. The Flight Plan, which is considered as the most important set of data about a flight, is itself often provided in different manners from region to region according to different regional rules. Users often must monitor and interact with a multitude of displays in an inefficient manner. Another issue is the distribution of data. There is no single access point through which to get ATM data; users must maintain several layers of infrastructure.

2.1.2. Except for those security cases (military, state, patrol…) where information is lacking for purpose, an accurate and system-wide information sharing is the next step for a more efficient management of time and space. The ICAO Global ATM Operational Concept has a larger set of data requirements than those that can be supported by the existing flight plan system. These include a secure architecture with trusted information sharing system-wide programme, providing early intent data, management by trajectory, collaborative decision making and high automation support. This concept is known as System-Wide Information Management or SWIM.

2.1.3. The Four Dimensional (4-D) Trajectory is a concept of ICAO Global ATM Operational, starting from the early business development stage up to post-operations activities. To support activities linked to ATM planning, collaborative decision making (CDM) and tactical operations, the trajectory will be shared by the ATM according to the SWIM protocols with stakeholders and continuously refined based on the latest and most accurate data.

2.1.4. The SWIM concept is intended to create a network in which every information related to a flight is shared through all the ATM system components. These data will not be only about the aircraft and its movement (ETD, slot allocation, take off time, speed, requested flight level, ETA…) but will integrate all the information surrounding the flight like weather, special use of airspace, company restrictions.

2.1.5. Eurocontrol originally presented SWIM to the FAA in 1997 in order to set the basis for the creation of a worldwide ATM information network. In 2005, ICAO adopted this concept to promote the integration of all the ATM related information within its Global ATM Operational Concept.

2.1.6. The concept changes the definition on how information is managed across the whole ATM system. It should enable direct ATM business benefits to be generated by ensuring the provision of commonly understood quality information delivered to the right user at the right time. This should improve ATM real-time collaborative decision making process and situational awareness across all ATM stakeholders sharing the same information. SWIM will interact with the Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) in order to share the decisional process through government agencies, air navigation service providers, airspace users, ground operations companies and others.

2.1.7. SWIM has a transversal nature, which goes from ATM systems to data domains, business trajectory phases and stakeholders. It is easy to recognise that global interoperability through standardisation is essential so that this concept could become a driver for new and updated standards. Standardization is a way to create harmonization. SWIM is a change in information sharing in order to enable the concept of “net-centric ATM operation”.

2.1.8. SWIM should support future Airspace Management programmes with flexible and secure information management architecture for sharing data with commercial off-the-shelf hardware/software. The way this is to be implemented is given by informatics technology through Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) (Software design and software architecture design pattern based on distinct pieces of software providing application functionality as services to other applications. This is known as service-orientation. It is independent of any vendor, product or technology (Wikipedia)).

2.2. Benefits

2.2.1. There are still many holes in the world’s ATM information network. The current ATM system is highly fragmented. The Data-Link capability of aircraft and ground station is limited and not fully exploited. The lack of surveillance provided in some areas (e.g. over the oceans) limits the information management that is necessary for a reliable network over those remote areas. SWIM is intended to be the base for the evolution of the information management carried through both the existing ground- based system and the satellite-based system of air traffic management expected to be developed for remote and oceanic areas surveillance.

2.2.2. The SWIM programme should improve safety through an increased shared situational awareness. More decision makers and users (pilots, controllers, dispatchers…) will have access to the same information supporting the system proactivity. Situational awareness should then be increased by giving the possibility to every user to get all the required information of a flight; even those that are not available today (e.g. fuel quantity for ATCOs).

2.2.3. An example of benefit is the efficient use of airspace reached through a better air traffic management around weather. SWIM core services will enable systems to request and receive information when needed/requested or based on automatic transmission, and publish information and services as appropriate. This would allow airspace users and controllers to access the most current information that may be affecting their area of responsibility in a more efficient manner. SWIM could improve decision-making and streamline information sharing for improved planning and execution.

2.2.4. SWIM should reduce infrastructure costs by creating unique interfaces between systems. SWIM-compliant interfaces will be necessarily standardized. This should introduce initial investments costs to upgrade present hardware but should reduce future data interface development costs.

2.2.5. Data resources redundancy will not be needed anymore. SWIM is, in fact, been intended as a sort of “cloud” where data are always reachable from any of the several servers around the globe. Both FAA’s NextGen and European SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) programmes include SWIM in their development steps.

2.2.6. The SWIM process can be applied for Dynamic Slot Trading. Thanks to the possibility to share the appropriate latest and updated information, it will be possible to provide User Driven Prioritization Process (UDPP) (See IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual 2014 § ATS 3.36 Resolution B1 – WP 86 – Bali 2013 and its relative policy), which is designed to allow airspace users to have input into the allocation of delay in capacity, constrained situations.

2.3. ICAO

2.3.1. ICAO has integrated the SWIM concept as one of the pillars through which the Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBU) process has to be developed. ASBU is the ICAO “step-by-step” programme to reach a globally harmonized ATM network. It includes four Performance Improvement Areas (PIA), which include different blocks of interest. The second Performance Improvement Area is called “Globally Interoperable Systems and Data – System Wide Information Management” and is divided into several area of interest to be developed as follows:

  • Module N° B0-DATM: Service Improvement through Digital Aeronautical Information Management
  • Module N° B1-DATM: Service Improvement through Integration of all Digital ATM Information
  • Module N° B1-SWIM: Performance Improvement through the application of System-Wide Information Management (SWIM)
  • Module N° B2-SWIM: Enabling Airborne Participation in collaborative ATM through SWIM
  • Module N° B0-AMET: Meteorological information supporting enhanced operational efficiency and safety
  • Module N° B1-AMET: Enhanced Operational Decisions through Integrated Meteorological Information (Planning and Near-term Service)
  • Module N° B3-AMET: Enhanced Operational Decisions through Integrated Meteorological Information (Near-term and Immediate Service)
  • Module N° B0-FICE: Increased Interoperability, Efficiency and Capacity through Ground-Ground Integration
  • Module N° B1-FICE: Increased Interoperability, Efficiency and Capacity though FF-ICE, STEP 1 application before Departure
  • Module N° B2-FICE: Improved Coordination through multi-centre Ground-Ground Integration (FF-ICE, Step 1 and Flight Object, SWIM)
  • Module N° B3-FICE: Improved Operational Performance through the introduction of Full FF-ICE

2.3.2. To give an example, the module B2-31 allows the aircraft to be fully connected as an information node in SWIM, enabling full participation in collaborative ATM processes with access to voluminous dynamic data including meteorology. This will start with non-safety critical exchanges supported by commercial data links.

2.3.3. The module B2-25 “Improved Coordination through multi-centre Ground-Ground Integration: (SWIM + Other components)” is about the implementation of SWIM services (applications and infrastructure) to create the aviation intranet based on standard data models, and internet-based protocols to maximize interoperability.

The first steps of SWIM deployment are to be carried by 2023.

2.4. An IT infrastructure

2.4.1. The Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC), a partnership of stakeholders that includes, among others, Airbus, Boeing, EADS, Lockheed Martin and Thales, has defined the pattern for the correct dissemination of the so-called Flight Data Object (FDO).

2.4.2. This pattern describes system-wide information management dedicated to FDO dissemination, where the ATM network is considered as a series of nodes (including the aircraft and the airspace users), providing or consuming information. The data object scope extends to all information of potential interest to ATM including trajectories, surveillance data and aeronautical information of all types.

2.4.3. SWIM implementation is starting from the ATS Message Handling System (AMHS), which is already developed in more than 120 countries around the world. It is the standard for aeronautical ground-ground communications (e.g. NOTAM, Flight Plans or Meteorological Data) and is based on the ICAO Doc 9880.

2.4.4. The next step is the creation of a net-centric environment (the way to participate as a part of a continuously-evolving, complex community of people, devices, information and services interconnected by a communications network to achieve optimal benefit of resources and better synchronization of events and their consequences (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net-centric)), derived from Information Technology (IT) and based on secure and unambiguous set of information data, in order to overcome the existing deficiencies and obtain a 4-D trajectory-based harmonized ATM system.

2.4.5. 4-D trajectory based ATM systems have a number of data-related requirements. These include:

  • a secure architecture with trusted sharing of information system-wide;
  • early provision of intent data;
  • collaborative decision making support;
  • high automation support requiring machine readability and unambiguous definition of information items. 

2.4.6. Both the SESAR and the NextGen efforts are aligned on key objectives with regard to the management of flight information:

  • Information must be shared securely on a system-wide basis;
  • Pertinent information will be available when and where it is required;
  • Information may be personalized, filtered, and accessed, as needed;
  • The system will include all tenets of cybersecurity to include confidentiality, integrity, availability and protection of data, networks and control systems, continuity of operations and secure interoperable communications;
  • Authentication for user access;
  • Initial quality of the information will be the responsibility of the originator; subsequent handling will not compromise its quality;
  • Information sharing can be adjusted to mitigate any proprietary concerns;
  • Information management will use globally harmonized information attributes.

2.4.7. SWIM Implementation Alternatives Basically there are two ways to introduce SWIM and achieve its objectives:

  • Establish a dedicated centralized flight data processing system that is supposed to act as a server;
  • Connect individual flight data processing systems into a wide array network.

2.4.8. The second approach seems more likely to be implemented as it makes use of existing systems and provides more reliability and robustness (a failure of a central server generally has a greater impact on a network than a failure of several elements in a peer-to-peer network).

2.4.9. The way to create a network of server and nodes has not been decided yet but this is an item about which there has been a lot of interest since the Air France flight 447 accident of June 1st 2009. After that event, the aeronautical community started wondering if the technology related to data communication from aircraft to ground station was to be updated.

2.4.10. Aircraft flying over remote areas (oceans, poles, territory without ground-based surveillance…) have the possibility to send their own data only through voice or via the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which is based on the transmission protocol technology of the century-old telex. ACARS is useful and reliable but has a great disadvantage on limited data transfer rate and its messages are not costless. The recent Malaysia Flight 370 disaster, where the flight did not use the primary ACARS, popped up again to the media the need to have some sort of communication box on-board that is always connected as an internet node.

2.4.11. Foreseeable technology on Air/Ground connectivity is exploring Nanonatellite technology (Skybox Imaging), actual satellites (Aireon) or high altitude solar powered drones (Google/Titan Aerospace and Facebook/Ascenta projects) to create an ATM data network, where everything will be connected according to the SWIM principles.

2.5. Technical and operational issues

2.5.1. Since SWIM can be used for Flight Information Service data sharing (ground/air, ground/ground and air/air) the accuracy and reliability of the information spread is fundamental.

2.5.2. Automation will move several “housekeeping tasks” from human to machines. In those cases where software will carry information which should be used for ATM purposes, it is mandatory that data are the latest available, always updated and checked by automated and SWIM-certificated systems. The responsibility on data accuracy will be upon the system administrator. ATCOs should be kept responsible only for those cases where the controller is tasked of data inputting.

2.5.3. The airframe would receive great benefit from the SWIM deployment. Aircraft/aircraft and ground/aircraft data sharing should increase the situational awareness of both ground staff and aircrew. SWIM is intended, among other topics, to share flight plans set of data in the most accurate and reliable manner, dropping the software difference issues that Air Traffic Flow Management is experiencing today. The Flight Information Service (FIS) can be provided in an automated manner giving latest updated information about weather, airspace restriction, flight status and others.

Once again accuracy of information is mandatory to gain the highest benefit from the system.

2.5.4. The SWIM process, its technology and the philosophy that lies behind it could be very complicated. ATCOs should not be responsible for infrastructure design but should participate in Human-Machine Interface (HMI) definition to permit the creation of a user-driven design.
After any step of the SWIM programme is deployed, the whole process should become transparent to ATCOs.

2.5.5. SWIM would permit the sharing of a large number of information. The amount of data could overwhelm the capability to manage the information itself. It is then mandatory that ATCOs should receive only required information to be displayed and available at any particular time.

2.5.6. The SWIM programme is intended to be achieved with a step-by-step path. It is mandatory that the number of changes will not exceed the normal human capability to cope with the provided amount of changes and that the training process is carried accordingly. Any Human Factors (HF) and Human Performance (HP) aspect has to be applied together with the required safety assessment.

2.6. Legal issues

2.6.1. Those operators who should be in charge of data transmission and dissemination could be retained responsible for its accuracy. The SWIM system is Information Technology (IT) based, meaning with it that any operation is carried through an input/output process and data intervention at different levels of administration (Admin, Superuser, Limited Account, Read-Only…).

2.6.2. In SWIM system, there will be user who will have no “write” possibility over the information (read-only) while other will be accounted of managing information as to change the data itself. ATCOs are supposed to be in charge of managing some of the information at the highest levels. SWIM access permission should then be developed through a clear governance policy that is transparent at all stages.

2.6.3. In this case, the responsibility beneath data intervention has to be clearly defined because any wrong setting could lead to a ripple effect on the flight data profile. It is even truth that, whenever the possibility to intervene on the data is kept, a wrong input error can be mitigated by a second input to obtain the right output. It is then mandatory to have redundancy and accessibility at different and pre- determined levels.

2.6.4. Certain operator category should have the capability to over-ride the system by issuing arbitrary input. An example is the necessity to modify the Controlled Time of Arrival (CTA) over a designated fix to recalculate sequence in the Arrival Manager (AMAN). This can be necessary whenever it is needed to give to special flights, prioritization over other traffic.

2.6.5. Even if SWIM process should be as more transparent as possible to ATCOs, some security- affected data could reach controllers’ awareness and management. Controllers should be qualified by the regulator on sensitive data treatment/management according to local laws. Sensitive information should be shared through a data protection protocol. ATCOs should not be considered in charge of managing privacy affected data unless this is required for the sole purpose of providing air traffic services. Each user roles and accountability need to be clear and unambiguous.

2.6.6. Wherever automation will support or completely own usual ATCOs’ tasks, clear and unambiguous regulatory framework must be set. Responsibility and liability have to be set upon machine or human without overlaps.

2.6.7. Even contemplating high redundancy, it could not be enough in case of mass-disaster (weather, war, hacking). SWIM deployment should include recovery protocols and system degradation management.


3.1. SWIM is an infrastructure of data sharing, based on existing IT and developed according to the Service Oriented Architecture principle. It will be the network behind any future development in the aviation field.

3.2. SWIM is recognized as an effective tool to create efficiency in airspace management and to increase operators’ awareness. It will help the establishment of CDM procedures.

3.3. SWIM processes is transparent for ATCOs unless data inputting task is mandatory (e.g. flight profile update).

3.4. ATCOs should receive only required information to be displayed and available at any particular time.

3.5. ATCOs should not be accounted on managing privacy-affected data unless this is required for the sole purpose of providing air traffic services.

3.6. SWIM deployment should follow a step-by-step path in order to permit an easy integration into ATCOs’ activities.


4.1. It is recommended that:

This paper is accepted as information paper.



NCOIC: Flight Data Object Dissemination (FDOD) Capability Pattern.



ICAO Doc 9965, Manual on Flight and Flow – Information for a Collaborative Environment, FF- ICE concept document.

ICAO Doc 9854 Global ATM Operational Concept.

SESAR Concept of Operations Step 1.

Kevin Ashton – The New York Times: “Finding a Flash Drive in the Sea” (April 28th 2014).


Last Update: October 1, 2020  

May 7, 2020   426   Jean-Francois Lepage    2015    

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