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ATC Maastricht 2002: Airports International reviews Europe's ATC event of the year. (ATM).

The annual Maastricht exhibition and Jane's conference upheld their reputations as the leading ATM events in Europe, with an impressive array of exhibitors and speakers. Despite so much talk of downturns and job losses in the airline industry you wouldn't have noticed any such problems here. The list of exhibitors showed a slight increase on the 2001 figure and there was plenty of state-of-the-art equipment on display.

EGATS Conference - Capacity versus Safety

"The recent crisis is only a temporary one and so capacity issues will come back," said Arno Vandenbroucke, Director of Maastricht UAC, in his opening address. "Therefore slowing down on capacity enhancements in Europe is not an option -- but we can catch up the capacity gap and ensure sustainable growth with the highest safety standards."

This message set the scene for the 2002 EGATS (Eurocontrol Guild of Air Traffic Services) forum at ATC Maastricht in February -- "we have taken routine traffic growth for granted but have we also taken safety for granted. There has been an 80% capacity increase in Europe over the last ten years but has safety increased as well?" Mr Vandenbroucke went on to state that various safety monitors, such as ASM-T, were being validated by the Maastricht UAC and that other safety monitors indicated a static accident rate -- with more flights, this implied that the skies were safer. However, he said, service providers needed to measure safety performance against set standards -- "safety will be a visible and auditable element." He concluded that a single pan-European sky would be needed for the integration of European solutions on capacity and safety. These introductory remarks were followed by speakers covering various aspects of the overall capacity/safety spectrum, and as we mentioned in the last issue, there was a distinct flavour of `vested interest' from many of the speakers in respect of the organisations they represented.

Philippe Domogala, from EGATS, said that relying on pure statistics for reliability/safety conclusions, can be problematical because of the subjective nature of some scientific studies. He posed the questions: "Are enhancing programmes affecting safety?" "Are we leaving safety aspects to the end users?" "Is there a limit to capacity enhancements and if yes, is it predictable?" Capacity, he argued, is the desire to put more aircraft in a given piece of airspace by putting them closer together, but is this increasing the risk of collision?

"Aircraft want to fly in the same height band and, for a given area, want to climb and descend at the same places. Are new technologies the solution to the problem? We are being offered a `believe and be saved' philosophy by technology but my own experience has so far been disappointing. Most new technologies are prototypes working in isolation in low density areas -- and they are expensive (for airlines in terms of avionics). There are also the questions of who will manufacture them, who will certify them and who will buy them."

Mr Domogala stressed that integration into current avionics and ATC systems was a major problem and "if we problems integrating today's technology then how many more problems will they have integrating future technology." It was the human interface with this technology that appeared to give Mr Domogala the greatest concern: "We need to be confident of systems and be able to take over if they fail. Prove it is safe and then introduce it, rather than introduce it and then see if it is safe. What is the top priority of the controller -- safety or expediting traffic?" The essence of Mr Domogala's position was that technologies should support rather than replace controller functions.

Al Secen of Lockheed Martin addressed `the balance of technology and safety in ATM' and, as you would expect from a manufacturer, stressed the positive role of new technology. To reach his conclusion of: "As long as humans are the safety net, there will always be capacity problems. The level of comfort a user has with a technology dictates [his perception of] how safe it is" Mr Secen cited the growth of technology within ATM as a "delicate balance between technology, capacity and safety" and stated that there were four basic phases of technology:

1. Initial Automation -- with technology as an aid.

2. Next Generation -- adding complexity to a system by adding efficiencies unavailable at human level.

3. Advanced Technology -- with no manual equivalent and where the human cannot take over. Failure would lead to suspended operation.

4. Technology Refresh -- no new features, but adding new functions to other technologies, such as colour displays.

It is the Advanced Technology level that we are now approaching and Mr Secen posed the questions: "Does too much AT make a system unsafe? Do we need humans as the ultimate safety back-up?" He argued that whilst all sides appear happy with the use of decision-support technology, it is the level of comfort a user has with technology that dictates the perception of how safe it is.

Bert Ruitenberg, a human factors specialist with IFATCA (International Federation of ATC Associations) returned to the question of capacity with ... "Airlines have convinced politicians that capacity problems were stopping economic growth." But, he asked, is the safety of the sky taken for granted by airlines? There was, he said, no shortage of new ideas aimed at increasing capacity: RVSM, 8.33 MHz frequency spacing, operational procedures, such as Land After or Land and Hold Short, and CPDLC (Controller to Pilot Data Link Communications). There was no doubt that some of these had improved capacity but it was not straightforward; for example, the introduction of 8.33 had enabled new sectors to be opened to increase capacity but there had been restrictions because of a lack of controllers. The most promising technology under present scrutiny is that of CPDCL and trials are underway at the Maastricht UAC. Mr Ruitenberg's view was that this provided "some improvement over voice systems but that new problems were likely, such as input errors, message format errors and reading errors, concluding that far from reducing controller workload it would, at least in the first instance, increase controller workload." He conceded that it did have "potential to alleviate R/T congestion if routine information was passed in this way but that it was a total waste of time to believe that it could replace all R/T." His conclusion was that information could be passed by data link but that instructions should still use voice. There is very much an element here of keeping a `man in the loop', with safety as the state rationale but with perhaps a hint of not wanting technology to replace people.

Last up was the pilot's view, as presented by Professor Bob Mulder, Delft University of Technology, whose opening gambit was: "Can we relieve the impossible task of ATC from the human?" He continued, "enabling technologies (such as CPDCL) yield unprecedented opportunities for changing ATC, increasing the flexibility of existing ATM and improving the allocation of tasks between the air and ground, and between man and machine." Professor Mulder saw "On-line genetic algorithms as a means of optimising schedules by continually considering multiple objectives." In essence, this is a move towards the goal of free flight whereby data is fed to pilots in the cockpit to enable them to make decisions regarding airborne separation and enabling `user-preferred approaches.'

"Solutions would be generated on the ground using the genetic algorithms and then data-linked to the cockpit, the pilot could then accept the solution and enter it into the FMS thus allowing the procedure to be flown by the autopilot."

The professor recognised that it was early days in this technology but stated that concepts, such as `tunnel in the sky' displays and 4-D guidance symbology, were under evaluation and that what was needed was an open mind in respect of the future.

Needless to say with a predominantly ATCO audience, the technology and the pilot viewpoints prompted the most questions, with the bulk of opinion favouring the status quo of controller-based decision making, albeit with enhanced decision-support tools. It was, however, agreed that eventually an inert-operable global ATM system will be critical to future capacity increases and improved safety management.

Exhibition Hall

Exhibiting two very innovative ATC systems was SAL Consultants, which was also promoting the Microvision head-mounted display system for tower controllers. Already under test by NASA for general aviation, Microvision's lightweight head-mounted display projects a crisp overlaid image directly on to the retina. For ATC applications, the landing sequence and wind speed are displayed, while other uses -- such as taking data from surface movement radar, thermal imagers, or other sensors -- might enable the ATC tower controller of the future to see tagged aircraft with callsigns and status, whatever the weather, 24 hours a day. SAL was also showing off an obvious enhancement for ATC displays -- translucent windows that allow controllers to see and manipulate flight tracks underneath other information; simple yet affective.

Jotron displayed a digital UHF/VHF transceiver, which is part of a development project currently on test with the Royal Norwegian Air Force. A civil UHF version will be available in the last quarter of the year.

Something the editor initially thought was a little out of place at an ATC exhibition was the printer displayed by Optima, however, upon further investigation its applications seem to be many-fold. The OP210-2 is a high-volume printer that uses no ink or toner, which, Optima claims, reduces costs by 50%. Another added bonus is the 37-mile (60km) printed paper guarantee. The manufacturers claim the printer is silent in operation -- obviously highly advantageous in an ATC environment -- and is capable of printing 15mm per second in other words, twelve pages of A4 paper per minute. The printer is available as a mobile version, which is fitted to vehicles enabling it to be used in any operational area of the airport. Lufthansa already has over 300 units in use, with other big names, such as Delta, DFS, Fraport and SITA also on the client list. Orthegon displayed its OSYRIS arrival management system, which entered service at Unique Zurich Airport in March 2002. The company is considering working with delair systems to explore the possibility of co-ordinating OSYRIS with delair's darts departure system, also in use at Zurich.

Sensis Corporation had its ADS-B vehicle location unit on display. The prototypes of the system are already complete and have now won the first delivery contract. SITTI displayed its successful digital multifono M600, which is in worldwide use, but now incorporates a digital clock.

Sprectracom made its Maastricht debut this year exhibiting the Mode S radar system, 130 units of which have been delivered to the FAA. The company says its system has slotted into the US network "without fuss" and is expecting an order for a further 350 units. Next step for Spectracom is to achieve CAA and Eurocontrol certification.

Skysoft-ATM, in a joint venture with Swiss ATC provider Skyguide, has produced a software programme for controller displays called Skyvisu, which is compatible with Windows 2000/NT/XP. The prototype of the system was on show -- it can use up to 2.5k x 2k pixel displays (it's user definable) to create an image. The system incorporates offline files, toolboxs and a highly-developed ATC functions `shopping list'. Using modern EATMP ergonomic technology, all the functions are presented via icon or control buttons. The mouse follows a context sensitive interface (EATMP concept), meaning that menus or graphical elements are selected by just moving the mouse. The controller screen and voice communication exchanges are continuously captured and can be replayed at any time through a PC video format. The technology has already been used successfully in Japan for medical imaging. Stonefield/Helios are in the process of developing a runway incursion system, the demonstrator of which was at Maastricht. At the time of writing, the two companies were still looking for a sponsor.

Techsourse displayed its Raptor 2500 FPS graphics accelerator digital flat panels, which were exhibited last year as a concept. Designed specifically for ATC/M and vessel traffic control applications, the product supports digital flat panels running at a resolution of 2560 x 2048 pixels. With a higher resolution than conventional 2k x 2k screens, it is designed to provide controllers with 25% extra screen area, which can be used to give a better situation perspective. The system features transparent/translucent areas (which always add to the quality of information that can be displayed) combined with the so-called widescreen technology, to provide a display in a more natural format for the human eye.

The product is digital, and when a pixel reaches the end of its life, it turns black to match the background of the controller's screen rather than the usual white, a small but user-friendly idea that adds that `little extra' to the quality of the display. Currently there are two units on demonstration with Eurocontrol.
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Publication:Airports International
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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Previous Article:On the ramp: Tom Allett looks at the recent developments for ground handling agents. (Ground Handling).
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