Digital towers, artificial intelligence, and the next generation of airport air traffic management

Not long before the pandemic, if you can remember such a time, I attended a Eurocontrol artificial intelligence (AI) summit in Brussels, at which people from across the industry gathered to attempt to cut through the hype and look at real, practical ways in which this disruptive technology could help transform how the aviation industry works.

Fast forward the best part of three years and our world has been transformed in a way that none of us could ever have anticipated. And even now, with the recovery still so fragile, talk of investing in new and what is often perceived to be a risky technology, would be further away than ever.

Using AI to support the return to long-term growth

But, of all the transformational technologies surrounding our industry, to my mind AI, especially when coupled with our ever-maturing application of digital tower concepts, remains the best placed to support the return to long-term growth in terms of improving efficiency, safety, and resilience. Those are issues that still matter today and will matter even more tomorrow.

One figure at that event that really resonated with me was the fact that less than 10 per cent of the data produced by the industry in Europe is used. That’s a massive, untapped resource and, long-term, a much more open approach to how data is stored and shared will be needed to unleash its latent value.

It is the ethos of harnessing the power of operational data that’s been the cornerstone of the work AI and digital tower specialists, Searidge Technologies, has been leading on for the past few years. Searidge began considering the ATM applications of AI by building on the technical expertise developed using machine learning and neutral networks to enhance tracking and detection capability in image processing.

Neural networks work by analysing datasets to ‘train’ and create an understanding of what normal operations look like. Once a period of training has taken place, the next stage is for outlier or marginal data to be highlighted in what is referred to as ‘anomaly detection’. This ability to detect operational events which are outside normal parameters is a key differentiator between machine learning and the traditional system development and coding, meaning the time between development and operational deployment can be shortened from years to months.

Working together with Searidge, our focus is on using AI and machine learning within the environment of a digital tower to identify ways of supporting controller decision making. This might be by using it to simultaneously monitor multiple areas of interest across an airport – like runway exit points e.g., something that humans simply aren’t physically capable of doing.

This ability can then be used to reduce the impact of external factors, such as weather, by creating a more predictable operation in terms of aircraft spacing and runway throughput. This focus doesn’t reduce the importance of people in the process, but rather looks at how to support the optimisation of human performance.

Reducing weather-related delays

To give a practical example, before the pandemic, we started a project looking at whether we could apply a combination of AI and digital tower camera technology to help cut airport weather-related delays.

We installed 18 ultra-high definition 4K cameras on the tower at London Heathrow and an additional 4K cameras at exit points on the airport’s northern runway. The images from those cameras were then fed live into Searidge’s AI platform, known as AIMEE.

When trained on enough data, AIMEE can identify the exact moment when an aircraft safely leaves the runway and then notify the controllers. The intent was to prove that when a tower like Heathrow’s disappears into low cloud, despite the taxiway and runways remaining clear, known as ‘VIS 2 conditions’, AIMEE could inform the controllers that the runway was free for the next arrival, something that would help recoup the landing capacity that’s lost in these circumstances.

Not only would this reduce delays for the airlines and their passengers, but it would also ensure safety is maintained and reduce the monitoring workload on the controllers. This would free them up to make other key decisions, whether that’s in support of capacity growth, resilience, safety, or efficiency.
During our trials, AIMEE continually monitored arrivals on Runway 27R/09L, identifying over 40,000 arrivals in all. Data analysis proved hugely exciting, showing AIMEE performed extremely well, including being able to identify aircraft in poor weather conditions and in darkness, when the 4K cameras were shown to perform better than the human eye.

So successful were the initial trials that we are now intending to extend the work to include more varied weather conditions, giving further opportunities to refine the model and test whether the solution would work in full CAT II/III low visibility conditions. If AIMEE performs as well as expected, it will prove an enormous benefit given the impact Low Visibility Procedures (LVPs) have on operations at airports around the world.

Automated voice clearances

To give another example, automated voice clearances are something that the industry has dabbled with in the past, but the technical hurdles have always seemed insurmountable. Not only must a system be able to issue the clearance safely and correctly, but it would also need to be able to understand the pilot’s response and act appropriately.

Again, here machine learning and AI could provide the key. Using AIMEE, we’ve been experimenting as part of a non-operational trial, by training the system to successfully monitor incoming radio traffic and respond by giving aircraft route clearances and transponder codes, including being able to interpret and respond to the ‘read back’ from the pilot over the radio.

It’s that ability to interpret ambiguity, which might include the use of non-standard phraseology or accented English (something humans are so good at), that has always been the real technical hurdle to the idea taking off, but the unique nature of AI and machine learning mean the results of our non-operational trials have been very encouraging.

AIMEE was asked to interpret the pilot request, check the details against the existing flight strip system and then respond to the pilot with the appropriate clearance or request for clarification. Obviously, this is a long way off being ready to deploy, but our analysis shows that with the provision of enough training data, AIMEE performed very well when monitoring real pilot RT transmissions.
If the work continues towards achieving something that’s one day operationally deployable, it could be possible to automate some of the more routine tasks controllers undertake, helping reduce their workload and again, leave them free to concentrate on the things where their skills and training are best employed.

Potential game changer

These are two radical applications, and while they are not ready for full operational deployment, to me the combination of the digital tower technology and AI is the real potential game changer in terms of airport performance.

One thing that was very clear is that despite the pandemic, we remain in an era accelerating change, with pressure to increase the rate at which new systems can be introduced safely. Technology is going to play a huge part in the future of ATM, with AI, machine learning and digital tower applications freeing people of routine tasks and allowing them to concentrate on decision making and performance.

via International Airport Review

Blockchain Will Coordinate Airspace so Delivery Drones Don’t Crash

Blockchain and drones: How will we control the new highways of the skies above us as small aircraft fill the the space above our cities?

Blockchain is a new industry. And yet, there are systems being conceived around it that are even newer. And this concept is one of them. For those of us with kids, we are being told to prepare them for jobs that don’t exist yet. So read on.

It has been predicted that within a couple of years, drones will be above us all the time. They will operate in a sub-layer of the sky, below commercial flight paths and military jets. But their flight paths will need to be coordinated. This is so they don’t smash into each other while delivering cargo, ferrying people, and inspecting things like wind turbines and bridges. No one needs to be rained on by smashing drones, thanks.

A sub-layer of air traffic control has been conceived to address this. It will work using both distributed ledger tech (DLT), blockchain, and automation. Research around this new sub-layer in the aviation industry is already well underway. The idea is to improve safety, cybersecurity and interoperability.

Cranfield researchers are part of this project. They say the system will integrate an ecosystem of crewed and uncrewed aircraft in the UK’s skies.

Air taxi drones in urban airspace. Credit: AMU-LED Consortium

Unmanned Drones

These researchers say that uncrewed aerial vehicles are already bringing benefits to humans. Examples given are solving medical logistical problems in isolated areas, and inspecting difficult-to-reach infrastructure, like high masts.

The researchers say that a new air traffic management system will “open up a new age of commercial opportunities for the aviation sector, as well as drone-enhanced public services: urban air taxis, cargo and delivery services, security operations, healthcare support and environmental monitoring.”

According to PWC and UKRI, a new industry around uncrewed and autonomous aviation will be worth an estimated £42bn to the UK economy by 2030. This is thanks to new jobs, cost savings, and productivity gains. Once this new industry is established, a hybrid airspace is predicted to be in place from around 2024.

Blockchain – Increasing Transparency and Trust

This future – of an uncrewed aircraft using blockchain-style technology to solve logistical problems – is being worked on by a collaboration of 13 consortium partners, including Cranfield, Oxford University, Heathrow Airport, IAGNATS, and SITA. Also in the mix are some UK-based startups.

As drones fly over us, the system will allow thousands of independent computers to share the history of data – of who did what and when. Says Cranfield, “The system includes ‘smart contracts’, controls over user actions backed up by coded security. Artificial Intelligence will enhance cybersecurity measures for the DLTs, allowing for constant real-time data collection, processing and authorization during operations.”

Automation and autonomy will unlock huge benefits

Dr Dimitrios Panagiotakopoulos is a Senior Lecturer in Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Traffic Management at Cranfield. “Human operators in traditional ATM are already facing high workloads and a deluge of data from different information systems, flight planning, radar and weather. The current approach isn’t scalable to meet the needs of a more complex and demanding hybrid airspace of crewed and uncrewed traffic. To access the huge potential benefits of a new kind of airspace there has to be more automation and autonomy – but that can only happen with watertight systems and a shared sense of trust.”

Yann Cabaret is the CEO of SITA. “Not dissimilar to the wider air transport industry, the successful introduction of Uncrewed Aircraft Systems will rely heavily on secure data exchange between operators, airports and air traffic management. Through this research partnership we are confident that using DLTs will improve the flow of actionable data between transportation stakeholders to support the efficient and safe operation of unmanned aircraft in future. At SITA, we have already demonstrated the benefits of DLT in tracking aircraft parts to sharing operational data at the airport. This is a natural extension of that work.”

Testing scenarios in urban environments 

So far, we have established that most people who live in cities can expect to see a variety of drones in the airspace above them, and soon. These drones will be taking people to hospitals, putting out fires, or delivering parcels.

According to Urban Air Mobility (UAM), “Just like the air traffic management system for general aircraft, [this] will ensure that drone operations are carried out safely and efficiently. The system is more automated than current air traffic control, with less human interaction and the capacity to handle more flights simultaneously.”

Gokhan Inalhan is the Professor of Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence at Cranfield. “This is a very exciting project and one that will pave the way for highways in the skies, removing traffic and congestion and changing the way we move around.”

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Air traffic controllers want to extend schedule of nighttime flights over Lisbon

Portugal’s air traffic control company NAV wants to extend the schedule of nighttime flights in Lisbon due to the implementation of the new Top Sky control system, a company source told Lusa.

Notice for the consultation of interested parties was published on Wednesday to start the procedure to approve an ordinance allowing for an exceptional regime concerning the operation of aircraft at Lisbon airport.

NAV’s official source told Lusa it is a question of extending the schedule of flights in Lisbon for the night period, not increasing the volume of traffic. More a case of “distributing flights over more hours, allowing the air traffic control system to be updated, as of 18 October”.

None of this sounds very clear. Lisbon airport is restricted to 91 flights per week between the hours of 00:00 and 06:00 due to noise.

In July, environmental association Zero stressed that noise levels at Lisbon airport still exceeded legal limits and warned that the night flight restriction regime was also not being complied with.

ZERO cited readings taken in the week beginning July 11, which indicated a total of 140 movements between 00:00 and 06:00.

Thus what NAV’s announcement really means is open to question.

The Top Sky project, common to six other countries and coordinated by Eurocontrol, was presented by NAV in 2019 and foresees an investment of €103.8 million until 2023, says Lusa.

Elsewhere, it is described as “the world’s most advanced air traffic control automation solution, designated to control en route, approach and oceanic traffic, both in civil and military environments.”

interested parties – which will include groups like ZERO – now have 10 days to comment on NAV’s request, says Lusa “after which a government decree will enter public consultation and will be known in greater detail”.

The post Air traffic controllers want to extend schedule of nighttime flights over Lisbon appeared first on Portugal Resident written by Natasha Donn

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Shell and Lufthansa Group sign non-binding MoU for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) supply; up to 594M gallons

Representatives of Shell International Petroleum and Deutsche Lufthansa AG (Lufthansa Group) have signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for exploring the supply of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) by Shell to the Lufthansa Group for seven years at airports across the globe, starting in 2024.

The parties contemplate negotiating towards reaching a definitive purchase agreement with the total volume supplied reaching up to 594 million gallons (1.8 million metric tonnes).

If a definitive agreement is reached it would be one of the most significant commercial collaborations for SAF in the aviation sector and Shell’s largest SAF commitment to date.

Unlike most SAF supply arrangements in which the fuel is produced from only one technology, the potential SAF to be supplied by Shell is to be produced by up to four different approved technology pathways and a broad range of sustainable feedstocks.

The MoU contributes to Shell’s ambition of having at least 10% of its global aviation fuel sales as SAF by 2030 and on the Lufthansa Group’s ambition to drive the availability, the market ramp-up and the use of SAF as a core element of its sustainability strategy. The Lufthansa Group is already the largest buyer of SAF in Europe and one of the airlines enabling their customers to report their emission reductions by an audited certificate.

via Green Car Congress

Measuring and improving safety culture in the aviation industry

Europe has approximately 40 air navigation service providers employing over 50,000 staff and coordinating up to 30,000 flights a day. Two mid-air collisions, Milan Linate in 2001 and Überlingen in 2002, revealed serious problems in the safety culture of these service providers. Tom Reader developed a methodology for systematically measuring safety culture in air traffic management, which has contributed to stronger European air safety.

Poor safety culture is a causal factor in serious aviation accidents.

Safety culture refers to the norms and practices for how risk is managed within an organisation. In a strong safety culture, employees and managers agree on the importance of safety and it is integral to everyday practices such as incident reporting, teamwork, training, and resources. Where such practices are absent, management and employees are less able to identify, discuss, and ameliorate threats to safety, which has severe consequences.

Effective safety management is essential for aviation and air traffic management. Across Europe there are approximately 40 air navigation service providers employing over 50,000 staff and coordinating up to 30,000 flights a day (15,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic). Though fatal accidents are rare, mid-air collisions in 2001 (Milan Linate) and 2002 (Überlingen) revealed serious problems in the safety culture of European air navigation service providers.

What did we do?

In 2006, EUROCONTROL, the European air traffic management network manager, launched a programme for measuring, evaluating, and improving safety culture across national European air navigation service providers. Initially this project was a collaboration with researchers at the University of Aberdeen led by Dr Kathryn Mearns and supported by me. I led later stages after I joined LSE in 2010.

Safety culture research has traditionally focused on measuring culture qualitatively or through generic surveys, usually within single companies, industries, or countries. The EUROCONTROL project, in contrast, was international and practice focused.

Between 2006 and 2008, we created a toolkit for identifying and measuring the core components of a “safe culture” in the industry. Through both top-down analysis (using safety culture theory to design and interpret survey items), and bottom-up assessment of survey responses, we designed a questionnaire that captured practices essential for safety management in air traffic control.

We then developed a six-dimension conceptual model of safety culture. These covered: management commitment, collaboration, incident reporting, communication, safety support (resources), and colleagues’ and staff commitment to safety. These dimensions were used to explore safety practices in focus groups, interviews, and discussions with executives in different countries.

Further survey data from a bespoke questionnaire based on these six dimensions were collected between 2011 and 2013 from air traffic controllers (n = 5,176) and managers (n = 1,230) in 17 countries. The results supported the use of a single conceptual model to explain, interpret, and benchmark safety culture across Europe, which could then generate recommendations for improvement.

Additional research with 13,000 employees in 21 air traffic management centres showed that safety culture is determined, in part, by national norms for uncertainty avoidance and tendencies for challenging authority. This shows that safety culture can be shaped by factors outside of managerial control; as such, work to improve safety needs to be tailored to different national environments.

Together, this research has created a novel benchmark for safety culture, which can be customised for ensuring safety across the global air traffic management industry. It now represents the standard for measuring safety culture and has subsequently been adapted to the wider airline industry.

What happened?

This programme has been used by EUROCONTROL to monitor and improve safety management across the European air traffic management industry, and it has been applied by more than 30 national air navigation service providers. For EUROCONTROL it provides a mechanism to engage with national organisations on safety culture, to create a benchmark for monitoring safety and for making recommendations for improving safety at both organisation and industry levels. This is one of the largest ever international and industry-wide programmes of safety culture assessment and development, which received the 2014 Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors President’s Award.

We have helped national safety providers to run the survey and analyse data for more than 30,000 survey respondents and 1,000-plus focus group participants, which has informed EUROCONTROL’s work with national organisations. Most European air navigation service providers have used this methodology, with many also participating in an annual safety culture workshop hosted by EUROCONTROL and attended by LSE researchers.

This process helps organisations to identify both strengths and areas for development in safety management. A paper by EUROCONTROL detailed the responses of seven large participating organisations, and what they had learnt from the process. Many reported benefits such as improved safety communication, collaboration, and incident reporting. One large organisation, for example, with 500,000-plus flights annually, reported an 80 per cent increase in incident reporting, and significant improvements in the quality of information gathered on safety incidents.

The application of this consistent methodology has helped air navigation providers to develop a coordinated approach to safety culture. CEOs of participating institutions have confirmed the assessment process has helped them to recognise safety culture as essential to operations, which enables them to drive change. Since taking part in the programme’s surveys, many air navigation providers now conduct their own safety culture surveys and workshops.

This scientific, coordinated, and collaborative approach to safety culture has since been extended to the wider aviation system. In cooperation with the European Cockpit Association (ECA; the union for European pilots), the safety culture survey has been customised to measure safety culture across the airline industry. In 2016, a sample of 7,000 pilots from more than 30 airlines completed the survey, run by LSE and ECA. The results provided new insights on issues such as zero-hour contracts and ineffective fatigue management. These informed MEPs’ questions on Europe’s “ultra-safe aviation industry”; an investigation by the European Commission into the working conditions of airline crews; and European Aviation Safety Agency recommendations on fatigue management.

Major airlines have also used insights from safety culture surveys. EasyJet, for example, made changes in its schedules and rosters, delivered new training, and created a pilot-peer support programme in response to its safety culture survey. Luton Airport was surveyed by EUROCONTROL and LSE in 2016, which helped it to bring together 15 organisations across its aviation system and improve coordination. This programme was recognised by a 2018 award from the International Air Transport Association.

Finally, this research is so also becoming influential beyond aviation. The safety culture methodology has been used by the Financial Conduct Authority to shape its thinking on how to effectively conceptualise, measure, and manage culture in the financial industry.

via LSE Business Review

New initiative from Turkish Airlines to combat climate change: Co2mission

Turkish Airlines made this announcement:

Aiming to offset the carbon emissions caused by flights, Turkish Airlines will launch a new program called Co2mission. The program aims to balance the emissions caused by all business trips from the company’s personnel. As for the guests, they will be able to fly more environmentally conscious on a voluntary basis. With this program, the national flag carrier will ensure carbon offset becomes achievable and practical for anyone with environmental awareness.

Starting its operations on August 1, the program’s website offers numerous portfolio options for carbon offset with environmental and communal benefits such as renewable energy and forestation. Passengers aiming to offset the emission of their flight can do so by contributing their desired amount to the project portfolio of their choice, thus purchasing an emission reduction certification accredited by United Nations. The passenger contributions will be used to support the projects accredited by VCS and Gold Standard and can submit their third-party evaluation and reviews without any cuts by Turkish Airlines.

Sharing his thoughts on the voluntary carbon offset project “Co2mission,” Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee Prof. Dr. Ahmet Bolat stated: “We are continuing to take the initiative to combat climate change, which stands at the forefront of today’s global problems. Soon, we will add another to our sustainability focused projects which are proving themselves with successful results. The projects supported by the carbon offset program will also show our heartfelt commitment to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The decision to implement this program is the result of our desire to conduct all our operations responsibly. I am sure that our passengers will also show great interest in the program with the knowledge that all of us are responsible for this beautiful world we share.”

Flight date information along with arrival-departure stations are enough to take part in the carbon offset process. Guests are able to complete their carbon offset process whenever they want, regardless of which airline they traveled with. With the THY Co2mission platform, it is possible to calculate the carbon offset amount with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) methodology, which considers route length, aircraft type, fuel consumption and numerous other factors. The platform will be reachable through Turkish Airlines website during ticket purchases or directly through the Co2mission website:

via World Airline News

Istanbul Airport ranked first in Europe with 1,327 daily flights

Istanbul: Istanbul Airport ranked first in Europe in terms of the average number of daily flights during the period of July 22-28, with 1,327 flights.

According to a report issued by the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) on Saturday regarding flights between July 22-28, Istanbul Airport exceeded the French Charles de Gaulle Airport and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol by the number of flights in the mentioned period.

Antalya Airport had 942 daily flights in the mentioned period, ranking eighth in Europe, the report stated.

Istanbul Airport also topped the list of airports in terms of the number of passengers during the month of June, with around 5,996,000 passengers.

This came according to a report issued by the Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE) on air traffic in Q2 of 2022, indicating that passenger traffic through European airports in the first half of this year increased by 247 percent compared to the same period in 2021.

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