Progress towards an ICAO Global Framework for cleaner energy in aviation 

ICAO has successfully concluded a round of consultations with States towards advancing an ICAO Global Framework for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), Lower Carbon Aviation Fuels (LCAF) and other Aviation Cleaner Energies for adoption at the upcoming Third Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3).

Opening on 25 September 2023, the two-day consultation event, known as the Pre-CAAF/3 Outcomes Consultation, brought over 600 participants, delegations from 95 States and 19 International Organizations to ICAO Headquarters in Montreal, where they focused on potential outcomes of CAAF/3, which will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 20 to 24 November 2023.

“ICAO’s highest priority is implementing the long-term global aspirational goal (LTAG) for international aviation of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the cleaner energy component is expected to deliver the most significant contribution toward decarbonization,” remarked ICAO Council President Mr. Salvatore Sciacchitano in his opening address. “CAAF/3 offers an excellent opportunity to implement a crucial component of the LTAG, setting a global framework under ICAO, through the building blocks of policy and planning, regulatory framework, implementation support, and financing.”

During the meeting, participants exchanged views on the importance of a global ICAO regulatory framework on SAF, LCAF, and cleaner energy to provide transparency, certainty and stability to States, industry and the financing community. Discussions touched on potential policies aimed at promoting the uptake of cleaner energy, and the role of various aviation and energy stakeholders in supporting this work.

Finally, the consultation tackled financial aspects, exploring funding mechanisms to accelerate the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels, through innovative solutions to stimulate investments in cleaner energy for aviation.

“States and organizations have been able to fully engage in the process, and we have been able to understand each other’s views. We have identified where the convergence and differences exist in the building blocks of the ICAO global framework,” commented ICAO Secretary General Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar. “We are now in a better position to prepare for a successful outcome at CAAF/3, which is less than two months away.”

Original article: Progress towards an ICAO Global Framework for cleaner energy in aviation 

Author: Vicky Karantzavelou

First published on Travel Daily News Feed

Digital cybersecurity and network protection

How EUROCONTROL responded to the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity

Over the decades, stakeholders within the field of aviation have been forced to pay more and more attention to potential cybersecurity threats. EUROCONTROL is one such party.

“When I joined EUROCONTROL 25 years ago, cybersecurity was not a concern,” Patrick Mana, Cybersecurity Program Manager at EUROCONTROL and European Air Traffic Management Computer Emergency Response Team (EATM-CERT) Manager, told AeroTime in an interview at World Aviation Festival 2023. “I started trying to introduce it in 2009, but there was no appetite for it.”

After several attacks and/or incidents, attitudes started to change. Part of that has been digitalization “that we are all facing,” Mana said, adding that cyber threats “are part of digitalization”, with cyber criminals also undergoing their digitization revolution too.

“The world has completely changed, the IT environment has completely changed,“ Mana noted.

One of the signs that the world has changed is the more frequent attacks against the European aviation system since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. According to Mana, the frequency has increased “significantly” since that time, more specifically distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. He pointed out that those DDoS attacks have been mostly aimed at airports of countries that have supported Ukraine.

But the system’s resilience comes back to the proudest moment of his 25-year-long career at EUROCONTROL, namely the creation of the EATM-CERT. Supporting EUROCONTROL’s services that it provides to the air traffic control sector, EATM-CERT helps stakeholders “protect themselves against cyber threats that would impact the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their operational IT assets and data”.

“It was something I pushed for at the beginning, we started from scratch, and we had to create everything,” Mana said, adding that the service is now helping stakeholders supporting the European aviation market and is being recognized for adding value.

“I am really happy about that,” Mana said.

Proactively countering threats

But there are ways to proactively counter cybersecurity threats, even within the realm of aviation.

By way of example, Mana pointed out that they were able to anticipate attacks on EUROCONTROL by finding threats from hacktivist groups on Telegram. Still, according to the EATM-CERT Manager, that does not mean that companies can come up with “miracles” and improve their systems’ resilience, “but at least people are ready”.

“From a human point of view and from a psychological point of view, it changes your mindset,” Mana continued, noting that knowing an attack is very likely coming can certainly change your mindset.

According to Mana, aviation, like any other sector, is prone to cyber attacks. Some attacks are aimed at the corporate level, with phishing activities, while others could impact the operational side of an organization.

“Air Navigation Services Providers [ANSP] are not the top targets,” Mana commented, adding that the reason is that they are “not commercially exposed”. The EUROCONTROL representative pointed out that the vast majority of cyber attacks are financially motivated, which is why attacks against ANSPs are hard to monetize.

“[ANSPs] do not hold, for example, passenger data, including credit card data,” he continued. While they are not immune from attacks, the greater proportion of the attacks can be compared to those affecting airspace users, airports, or aviation, including aircraft manufacturers.

Focusing on responding to cyber attacks

Still, cyber incidents within the domain of air traffic control have been rare, at least on the surface.

According to Mana, that is a good thing, because during a time of crisis, cybersecurity teams want to control the situation as much as possible. “We want to be the first to disclose information and to explain certain problems and there are cyber attacks that can take weeks or months to understand,” he said.

“The less you are in the media, the more you can work in a quiet way and focus on the cyber attack itself,” he added. Another reason Mana highlighted as to why some of those incidents might go under the radar, at least in terms of the general public, is that many people have no knowledge about the roles of ANSPs, even if they understand airlines and airports.

But for ANSPs and EUROCONTROL, the threats are similar to those that other industry service providers have continued to face.

“We are subject to attacks like phishing or malware because some cyber threat actors are randomly sending out emails, trying to enter a system, scanning, and they do not even know what kind of entity it is,” Mana explained. “But if they have a grip, they use it.”

However, the industry is also facing operational attacks, with hacktivists flooding systems with DDoS attacks, which is also seen due to the “geopolitical context” within Europe.

Regulations are also hard to navigate, Mana noted. “We have two sides of regulations, one from the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] or from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] and from the European Union [EU],” he noted.

“We have to reconcile the two and it is a challenge, not only from a compliance point of view but also from the reconciliation of the two, since [ICAO and/or EASA and the EU] can request nearly the same things in two slightly different ways,” Mana expressed.

This is especially true as, at the end of the day, EUROCONTROL as well as all aviation stakeholders have a single information security management system that they operate, which makes navigating regulatory hurdles a challenge.

At times another challenge could be the lack of data from aviation stakeholders of EUROCONTROL member states. While Mana noted that EATM-CERT has “a reasonable view of what is happening”, the more information the stakeholders share, the better. This would also help understand “variations across time and geographical areas” when aviation stakeholders are facing a cyber attack.

The landscape continues to change, too, not least with the dawn of the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

According to Mana, “the bad guys are using AI to generate more efficient attacks that are also less expensive, while also opening up the capability to conduct a cyber attack on a wider audience”.

“For us, that is an issue, because that will disrupt our understanding of who can attack and what motivated them to do so,” he said. “It is a change in the threat landscape, we maybe have new motivating factors and ways of executing cyber attacks that are generated by AI”.

Original article: How EUROCONTROL responded to the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity

Author: Rytis Beresnevicius

First published on AeroTime

Ancillary revenue increases 51% for 61 airlines in 2022

The 2023 edition of the CarTrawler Yearbook of Ancillary Revenue by IdeaWorksCompany describes the 2022 ancillary revenue activities and results for 65 airlines and provides an assessment for the industry as a whole. Here’s a guide to key features of the 2023 edition:

  • 65 pages of individual airline listings arranged by global region.
  • Alphabetical listing of 65 airlines from Aegean to Wizz Air, as a table, with total ancillary revenue in US dollars; and ancillary revenue as a percent of total airline revenue, and per passenger.
  • Ancillary revenue as a % of revenue, ranked in a graph, starting with Spirit Airlines at 51.5%, followed by Frontier, 50.8%, and Allegiant, 48.9%.
  • Ancillary revenue per passenger, ranked in a graph, starting with at $84.72, followed by Qantas Airways, $73.23, and Allegiant, $67.74.
  • Top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue, ranked in a table, starting with Delta’s $7,987,111,000, followed by United’s $7,881,371,000, and American’s $7,711,216,000.
  • Frequent flyer program revenue for 20 airlines, ranked in a table, starting with American – AAdvantage at $5,800,000,000, followed by Delta – SkyMiles, $5,500,000,000, and Southwest – Rapid Rewards, $5,206,000,000.

Peter O’Donovan, CEO, CarTrawler said: “We are delighted to continue our support of the annual Yearbook of Ancillary Revenue by IdeaWorksCompany. “Looking at this year’s results, it’s clear that airlines are looking beyond ticket sales to ensure their business models are supported by diversified and resilient revenue streams in a post-Covid travel era. As passenger demand increases, so too do opportunities for additional revenue generation, and we expect to see ancillary revenue as a percentage of overall revenue continuing to increase over the next few years.

“For me, the key trend to watch into 2024 is loyalty. While low-cost carriers have always had the edge on driving ancillary revenue streams, many of the top US airlines are catching up and seeing real returns from their loyalty programmes and frequent flyer benefits. I expect airlines in Europe and the rest of the world are taking note of this development and evidence of the real returns it’s bringing in terms of yield.

“Within our own operations in CarTrawler, we’re seeing greater demand for the inclusion of car rental services in loyalty programmes, so airlines and hotel groups can reach a wider customer base with the most relevant rewards. We currently power car rental loyalty for 18 partners including Alaska Airlines, eDreams, Emirates, Eurowings, Swiss, United Airlines and WestJet. Next year, we expect this area of our business to expand significantly as we continue to invest and deliver on our company strategy, by enhancing our proposition through innovation.”

The world’s airlines had a very good 2022, with traffic advancing more than 30 percent1. More passengers generate more sales of optional extras such as checked baggage and assigned seating. But other factors influenced the full statistical story of ancillary revenue for 2022. Global airline revenue advanced 50 percent for 2022 and this outpaced ancillary revenue growth2. As a result, ancillary revenue as a percentage of airline revenue, and on a per passenger basis, did shrink. Strong consumer demand drove air fares higher for 2022.

Among the 65 airlines in the Yearbook, 61 also appeared in last year’s edition, and this permits an apples-to-apples comparison. More passengers generated more ancillary revenue as evidenced by the $23.3 billion jump shown in the above table. The usual year-over-year increase of ancillary revenue as a percent of airline revenue and on a per passenger basis didn’t occur for 2022.

The Yearbook also offers 5 pages of individual airline results produced by ancillary revenue, loyalty marketing, and retail activities; a sampling includes:

  • AirAsia Aviation Group: The AirAsia Super App achieved average monthly users of 34.4 million during 2022 and gross booking value of MYR 8,850,101,000 ($2 billion) for the year.
  • Air France & KLM: The company says that 50% of its business class passengers are now leisure travelers, courtesy of a push by the commercial department. Also, the carriers have quick-change flexibility to decrease the size business cabins by up to 19%, when more economy-oriented seating is desired.
  • Allegiant: The Allways Rewards co-branded credit card had 410,000 cardholders at year end (335,000 average accounts for 2022). Revenue from the program was $103 million for 2022 which averages $307 per account.
  • Avianca: Of the 11.6 million members in the LifeMiles coalition loyalty program, 524,000 have a co-branded credit card account (4.5% of membership).
  • FlyArystan: Bundled fares for domestic bookings generated revenue of $29,153,076 or $63.47 per domestic passenger.
  • Frontier: Revenue from assigned seating fees was $251 million for 2022, or $9.85 per passenger.
  • 64.9% of the carrier’s 16,220,000 passengers were package customers (not air-only).

Results from 2022 indicate ancillary revenue has proven a reliable economic partner in good times and bad. But for any product to perform at its very best, it must always deliver value for the customer. That’s a truth that should not be forgotten while pursuing profits.

  1. 2023 Big Book of Travel Data by IdeaWorksCompany.
  2. 2 2023 Big Book of Travel Data by IdeaWorksCompany

Original article: Ancillary revenue increases 51% for 61 airlines in 2022

Author: Vicky Karantzavelou

First published on Travel Daily News Feed

Singapore’s Changi Airport To Be Passport Free From 2024

On Monday, 18 September, Singapore passed several reforms to the Immigration Act, including end-to-end biometric screening of Changi Airport passengers.

This means that travellers will no longer be required to show their passport, ticket, and boarding pass when passing through the airport’s numerous checkpoints.

Biometrics would be used for verification at several automated points in the departure process, from bag drop through immigration and boarding,

Singapore’s Minister for Communications, Josephine Teo, said the forthcoming changes will “reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly present their travel documents at touch points and allow for more seamless and convenient processing.”

At immigration checkpoints, Changi Airport already employs biometric technology and face recognition software to some extent. However, Teo stated that the impending adjustments will “reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly present their travel documents at touch points and allow for more seamless and convenient processing.”

Teo also stated that passports are still necessary for visitors from countries other than Singapore that do not provide passport-free processes.

Singapore Changi Airport was named the “Best Airport” for the 12th time in March 2023, and it has received hundreds of accolades for innovation, design, and overall effectiveness.

Facial recognition technology is already in use to different extents at the following airports: Hong Kong International Airport, Tokyo Narita Airport, Tokyo Haneda Airport, Indira Gandhi International Airport, London Heathrow Airport, and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

In October 2022, Dubai International Airport launched a biometric path where passengers would go through a tunnel to capture their biometric data.

The post Singapore’s Changi Airport To Be Passport Free From 2024 appeared first on Travel Daily Media.

Author: Joe Cusmano

First published on Travel Daily Media

Heron AirBridge and SITA initiate proof of concept to advance urban air mobility for Singaporean airspace

Heron AirBridge, known for its comprehensive unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) solutions, has entered into a proof of concept (PoC) agreement with globally acclaimed travel and  transport technology provider SITA.

The objective is to collaborate on urban air mobility (UAM) vertiport solutions for Singaporean airspace by integrating Heron AirBridge’s UTM system with SITA’s vertiport solutions.

This strategic agreement is part of an ongoing effort to develop an end-to-end framework of workflows and processes for the safe and efficient operation of advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles within urban environments. The initiative focuses on connecting Heron AirBridge’s advanced and flexible UTM system to SITA’s new Vertiport Management System (VMS) and building a first minimum viable product (MVP) that will enable dynamic real-time data exchanges between the vertiport system, the eVTOL operators and the UTM from the flight scheduling phase to the time of the actual flight operation.

Ryan Lee, CEO and cofounder of Heron AirBridge, said: “SITA is a world leader of air transport communication and information technology. We are excited and proud to be selected as their go-to partner for this opportunity. This partnership symbolises the close cooperation needed between companies from different regions to work together to develop best-in-class services that will benefit the emerging advanced air mobility industry globally.”

The partnership will leverage both parties’ expertise, capabilities, and extensive network. SITA is already collaborating with several UAM and vertiport operators. The new alliance will fully complement existing partnerships to create a scalable and robust model that connects eVTOLs, vertiports and UTM systems as one integrated eco-system.

“UAM represents an exciting evolution of the air transport industry and is currently experiencing rapid innovation and growth. As a collaborative innovator in the air transport industry, we’re uniquely positioned to support Heron AirBridge take the next steps in delivering operational excellence via the latest technologies,” Sumesh Patel, President Asia Pacific of SITA, added, “We’re excited to enrich and complement our overall vertiport infrastructure. With this latest strategic agreement, we are well positioned to deploy integrated land and airside solutions for any company or airport looking to build a vertiport.”

The SITA collaboration comes on the heels of Heron AirBridge’s accreditation by renowned audit and certification institution TÜV SÜD. The UTM technology specialist has recently received ISO 27001 certification for its cybersecurity services and drone mission and traffic management solutions, achieving the world’s most notable standard for information security management. The accreditation highlights the firm’s unwavering commitment to providing a secure digital aviation environment to support its growing partner base. It ensures that the Heron AirBridge platform meets rigorous security requirements, and that effective policies and controls are in place to minimize the risks of cyber-attacks.

Original article: Heron AirBridge and SITA initiate proof of concept to advance urban air mobility for Singaporean airspace

Author: Kanchan Nath

First published on Travel Daily Media

APEX/IFSA celebrates Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive H.E. Akbar Al Baker with Lifetime Achievement Award

His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, the Chief Executive of Qatar Airways Group, was honored with the CEO Lifetime Achievement Award at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX)/IFSA Awards Ceremony in Long Beach, California on September 20. This award is given to industry leaders in recognition of their dedication, efforts, and commitment to improving the passenger experience. APEX is a non-profit organization representing major international airlines and focuses on enhancing passenger experiences in collaboration with the International Flight Services Association and Future Travel Experience.

The CEO Lifetime Achievement Award is a prestigious honor and has been presented only six times since APEX’s establishment in 1979, selectively recognizing leaders and visionaries for their contributions to the aviation sector. Akbar Al Baker also received three other awards for Qatar Airways: the 2024 APEX World Class Award, APEX Award for Best Entertainment in the Middle East, and the APEX Award for Global Best Food & Beverage. These awards were based on certified passenger votes.

Al Baker expressed his gratitude and pride in these accolades, emphasizing Qatar Airways’ commitment to customer service quality and luxury. He credited the dedication of the airline’s employees worldwide for its success.

APEX also acknowledged Al Baker’s leadership in delivering a service quality that goes beyond the conventional five-star rating. APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader praised Al Baker as a pioneer in aviation, highlighting his innovation, commitment to passenger excellence, and accomplishments such as the Qsuite experience, in-flight entertainment library, and health measures during challenging times. He described Al Baker as a leader who has redefined the aviation industry.

In conclusion, Akbar Al Baker received the CEO Lifetime Achievement Award from APEX in recognition of his exceptional leadership and contributions to Qatar Airways and the aviation sector. Additionally, Qatar Airways received several other awards for its excellence in passenger experience and services, all of which were determined by passenger votes.

Single European Sky: EASA’s Air Traffic Management responsibility consolidated through new regulations

COLOGNE, September 15 – Personnel, procedures and equipment for Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Air Navigation Services (ANS) will in future all fall under the regulatory framework of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, laying the basis for a more efficient and consistent approach to evolution of operations in support of the deployment of the Single European Sky.

The European Commission published five regulations comprising the new regulatory framework to manage the interoperability of systems and constituents used to provide ATM/ANS, which were adopted on the basis of EASA Opinion No 01/2023, in the Official Journal of the European Union today.

The package reinforces the role of EASA by bringing ATM/ANS equipment under the EASA certification framework, therefore ensuring that all elements impacting the performance of ATM/ANS services are consistently managed from an end-to-end perspective.

‘This publication marks a key milestone for the modernisation of the European air traffic management system,’ said EASA Acting Executive Director Luc Tytgat. ‘For the first time, there will be a single EU regulatory framework covering all aviation domains on the ground and in the sky, driving the transformation of the air transport system.’

The framework introduces harmonised requirements for the certification or declaration of ATM/ANS equipment, as well as the procedures for the approval of organisations involved in the design or production of such equipment. The driving principle is the essential need to achieve a single and mutually recognised compliance demonstration methodology for the equipment used to support ATM/ANS service provision.

This addresses previous interoperability shortcomings and enables a more efficient EU market for this equipment, resulting in a safer, more secure, interoperable, and efficient operation of the European ATM network for all phases of flight.

The new approach recognises the essential role and responsibility of the equipment suppliers in bringing solutions to the EU market that are fit for purpose and meet the required level of operational performance.

Finally, the new rules will strengthen the value of industrial standards in the demonstration of compliance with the Single European Sky needs and requirements. EASA is working intensively with all relevant industry partners to support the implementation of the package.

Original article: Single European Sky: EASA’s Air Traffic Management responsibility consolidated through new regulations

Author: European Union Aviation Safety Agency – EASA

First published on EASA News

New E.U. Law Requires 70% of Aviation Fuel To Be Sustainable By 2050

Under the new standards adopted during a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, France, 2% of jet fuel must be sustainable as of 2025, with this share increasing every five years to reach 70% by 2050.

The Parliament said that sustainable fuels will include “synthetic fuels, certain biofuels produced from agricultural or forestry residues, algae, bio-waste, used cooking oil or certain animal fats.”

Recycled jet fuels produced from waste gases and waste plastic, as well as renewable hydrogen, will be considered green, while food crop-based fuels and fuels derived from palm and soy materials won’t.

The aviation sector accounts for 13.9% of transportation emissions in the EU, making it the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the sector after road transport, the European Commission said. If global aviation were a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters.

The legislation is part of the EU ’s “Fit for 55” package, which sets a goal of cutting emissions of the gases that cause global warming by at least 55% by 2030. The EU has also set a goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. It says it needs to cut transport emissions by 90% compared to 1990 levels to achieve this.

The new rules were adopted by 518 votes in favor, 97 votes against and eight abstentions. Once endorsed by EU member countries, they will enter into force as of January 2024.

The European Commission said earlier this year that the move is expected to reduce aircraft carbon emissions by two-thirds by 2050 compared to “a ‘no action’ scenario.”

However, stocks of sustainable aviation fuel remain low. The EU Aviation Safety Agency says supply accounts for less than 0.05% of total EU aviation fuel use.

Aviation also faces competition from other sectors. On Sept. 5, the head of the German airline Lufthansa warned automakers to keep their hands off synthetic aviation fuels. Carsten Spohr said sustainable fuels represented the only workable way to decarbonize aviation, and there wouldn’t be enough for the car industry as well.

Original article: New E.U. Law Requires 70% of Aviation Fuel to Be Sustainable By 2050

Author: Associated Press

First published on TIME

US supports Vietnam in air traffic management

US supports Vietnam in air traffic management

An aircraft takes off at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi on July 18, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

The Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation (VATM) and the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) signed a funding agreement on technical support on Monday.

The agreement focuses on building advanced concepts of operations (ConOps) and functional requirements for air traffic management automation system and requirements of air traffic flow management system in Vietnam

According to the VATM, the agreement contents were approved by the Ministry of Transport on August 15. The agreement is implemented by the U.S. Government through the USTDA, and the VATM is the recipient.

Under the deal, the USTDA will provide the grantee with US$3 million for technical assistance for building advanced concepts of operations and functional requirements for air traffic management automation system and requirements of air traffic flow management system in Vietnam. The U.S.’s MITRE Corporation will be the technical support provider.

Disbursement of the funding will be made directly by the USTDA to the MITRE. Payment will be made in accordance with the deliverables approval by the VATM.

The VATM said that the assistance aims to provide functional requirements and technical specifications that an air traffic flow management system (ATFM) needs for integrated delivery and enable VATM to meet Vietnam’s unique ATFM operational requirements.

It also provides functional requirements and technical specifications that the VATM needs to upgrade and purchase the ATFM system in short, medium and long terms.

Other objectives include defining the ConOps of the air traffic management (ATM) automation system and the high-level functional requirements for modernizing the ATM automation systems with integration into the vision of the air traffic flow management system and airspace design, while helping the VATM develop specific requirements and technical details of the ATM system to obtain air traffic management automation systems that best suit Vietnam’s flight information region (FIR) airspace design, and ensuring that operations and air traffic management systems and air traffic flow management systems in Vietnam are integrated.

Earlier in September 2017, the USTDA provided technical assistance worth over $915,000 to Vietnam to develop a master plan on air traffic flow management in Vietnam.

Established in 1961, the USTDA is an independent agency of the U.S. Government, aiming to promote the economic development and trade interests of the U.S. in developing and middle-income countries. It also helps U.S. businesses export their products and services, thereby creating jobs.

Original article: US supports Vietnam in air traffic management

Author: VNA

First published on VnExpress English

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