The world's air traffic management systems will seize up before 2030 unless states all agree a way of acting more harmoniously and seamlessly.
This warning came from ICAO Council president Roberto Kobeh Gonzales as he opened the 12th Air Navigation Conference here in Montreal today. This is the global gathering at which the world's 191 aviating states have assembled to ratify the agreements that will enable progress. At the end of the next eleven days of haggling, Kobeh will be able to declare the conference a success or a failure,
If the states fail to agree on the fundamentals for advance, he said today, the global ATM system will be unable to cope with predicted demand, which is estimated to grow from 2.7 billion passenger journeys a year now to 6 billion by 2030. The number of flights will double from 30 million to 60 million, with the biggest growth concentrated in the Asia Pacific region.
Kobeh said he believes he has already got consensus that the way ahead begins by carrying out "Block Upgrades" to ATM performance, and the meeting's task is to ratify that agreed aim. Block Upgrades happen when groups of states agree regional plans for technical and regulatory ATM advance, like Europe is doing under its SESAR Joint Undertaking.
Head of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission Nancy Graham explained it like this: "We have consensus on why we need the Block Upgrades. What this meeting is about is deciding when, how, and where the money is coming from."
ICAO makes it clear that there is room for some local flexibility in implementation rates and means because some areas have high growth and high density traffic, others low traffic and more manageable growth, but all the systems must harmonise. IATA's head of operations Guenther Matschnigg pointed out that the airlines want their onboard communications and navigational equipment to be able to take them anywhere in the world without need for a freight-bay full of rarely-used kit for rogue ATM providers.
Graham said that there are a couple of areas in which there will be less room for negotiation: ATM datalinking methodology and equipment must be completely globally compatible and advance at a similar rate everywhere, she said, as must participation in the SWIM (system-wide information management), which will be the industry's equivalent of the human body's neurological network.
We'll see what the next eleven days brings. If the meeting fails, prepare for a future of increasing air traffic control delays and inefficiency.