30 Mar How to boost airspace capacity in South East Asia?
Air traffic demand is growing at a high rate in the South East Asian region and yet an overall network view of flight plans across different countries is lacking. As a result, flights are managed tactically by the various air navigation service providers. This lack of planning and predictability, combined with adverse weather conditions, will cause flights to be delayed, held in holding stacks and burn more fuel than necessary. In worse case, passengers will miss their connecting flights. If South East Asian countries want to accommodate further growth, they need to plan their flights at a strategic level.
What is the current situation in South East Asia?
- In Asia there are 39 States and 50 air navigation service providers (ANSPs), with variable capabilities, each working with different systems, so there is no interoperability.
- The situation in controlled airspace is complex and over oceanic airspace there is a serious lack of surveillance.
- The current route structure is largely based on historical requirements and doesn’t take into account the modern aircraft navigational capabilities
- Compared to the US and Europe, where there is a significant ‘domestic’ share, in Asia there is a wide variety of hubs with 100% international flights up to hubs with large ‘domestic’ share
- Most flights in the SE Asia region have only a short (< 3 hrs) flight time
- Air traffic control is pretty much tactical, there is no (shared) network view leading to a strong knock-on effect from one FIR to another.
How can the predictability be improved?
South East Asia needs a form of Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) system. This notion was widely recognised by states, ANSPs, airlines and airport operators in the region. It lead to an ATFM operational trial based on a distributed multi-nodal cross-border CDM/ATFM . The concept involves each ANSP leading and operating an independent, virtual ATFM node supported by interconnected information sharing framework. Central is demand-capacity balancing for aircraft arriving at selected airports of participating ANSPs, based on the Calculated Take-off Time (CTOT). After a successful stage 1, where CTOT communications were established, the parties involved have just finished stage 2: CTOT adherence.
The ATFM operational trial is a promising first step to accommodate future aviation growth. Yet it does not structurally increase airspace capacity.
Next step in the trial involves advanced CTOT management. It will conclude phase 1 of the trial in June this year. Phase 2 of the trial, starting July, will focus on the Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) part of the concept where airspace constraints are considered. Also the connectivity between the individual ATFM systems need to be addressed.
Is it enough to accommodate future growth?
The current trial is an important step to demonstrate the benefits of having such system in place, and we applaud the initiative. However, ATFM does not structurally increase airspace capacity but it can contribute to the optimisation of available airspace capacity. In order to be truly effective in achieving higher capacity demand predictability it needs to be combined with a modernisation of the airspace structure taking into account the navigational capabilities of a modern aircraft fleet. An effective ATFM is only the important first step for South East Asia, additional measures can be taken before its expected implementation in 2018.
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 ICAO Asia/Pacific Framework for collaborative ATFM (Version 1, September 2015)