The number of flights in European skies is constantly increasing and air traffic is set to grow by over 50% within the next ten years.
For airports, the challenge is how to manage such a large increase in activity while guaranteeing the safety and comfort of passengers. But the air traffic management revolution has already begun.
It's clear Air Traffic Management (ATM) tools and strategies in Europe need to be improved, since current operations and procedures will not be able to deal with the future scenario.
A huge technological transformation is already underway and is set to profoundly change previous models.
The new develpments delivered by the European research project SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research programme) are creating a brand new scenario.
These include, for instance, a new way of managing flights between different sky sectors, and even digital control towers. These are able to handle traffic remotely.
The world’s first remotely operated tower at Örnsköldsvik Airport, Sweden, is controlled from the Sundsvall air traffic control facilities over 150 kilometres away. It was opened in 2015. Similar towers inspired by SESAR research are going into operation at airports including Budapest and London City.
Csaba Gergely, Senior ATM adviser, HungaroControl explains: "We have digitalized the direct visual observation of the controller and, through cameras, we can better follow the targets the controller has to monitor. Fixed and mobile cameras are able to track automatically the movements of the planes and ground vehicles."
In a simulation hub 'virtual' pilots and air traffic controllers are testing new ideas about air traffic management. Nowadays the airspace is divided into various sectors, and each controller supervises one part of the sky which is crossed by many flights. In the future, controllers will monitor several airplanes throughout their flight.
Olivia Núñez AM expert, SESAR Project explains: "The target of the simulation underway here is to investigate how to find a different way to improve air traffic management by not dividing the sky into several smaller sectors because of rising air traffic. In this way, all the controllers can work on a large common airspace, which, in our case, is the Hungarian airspace."
A human impact investigation is also being lead by specialists together with a group of air traffic controllers in order to understand more precisely the response and adaptability of air traffic controllers.
The implementation of the Sesar programme is expected to have a series of direct impacts on the air transportation industry and environment- from reducing managing costs to cutting C02 emissions by up to 10% . Passengers should also enjoy less delays and missed connections.
On busy summer months, up to 10% of flights in Europe are delayed due to air traffic control.
But at the end of the day, what are the benefits for passengers ?"
Csaba Gergely says air safety will be improved as air traffic controllers will have more detailed and more exact visual information.
"Thanks to these technologies, smaller airports will be able to join the European airports network," he says. "All this means more flights possibilities in terms of mobilities and connectivity for passengers."
The modernisation process is progressively taking off across Europe. And full deployment is expected between now and 2024.