Air traffic management and geology

At the World ATM Congress in Madrid I was waiting for something to fire up my enthusiasm when someone explained why I was waiting so long.

He told the Conference from the podium that watching ATM developments in Europe’s Single European Sky programme was “more like watching geology than Formula 1″. That was David McMillan, former DG at Eurocontrol, now chairing the Flight Safety Foundation’s board.

The audience completely missed the joke. At least I think they did, or maybe they’d just heard it all before and knew what a sad truth it is.

Singapore says it is going to be even worse in the rest of the world.

Poh Theen Soh, assistant DG at the CAAS was talking about the recent resolution at ICAO that the world’s air navigation service providers should start thinking regionally instead of locally, and he said he is very pessimistic about it. He was talking about a programme called the Aviation System Block Upgrade.

If the European Union, with its strong regional structure and all the assistance from the European Commission can’t stop its ANSPs thinking nationally and start them thinking regionally, what hope did the rest of the world have when there is no such structure and no incentives? No-one in the CANSO-led panel of experts said he was wrong.

What puts the brakes on the system everywhere is that nations, especially small ones, think that if they cede ATM functions to a regional system they risk losing their expertise in a high-tech area, and losing a high-skills employer. But even the big players – France is the classic European example – are equally intransigent for the same reason.

This nervousness is very human. The only way everybody can win in this game is to focus on the horizon that everybody wants to reach, and ensure that all the players have a chance of taking part, but not restricted by a territorial template.

If ATM goes on being a nationally-based patchwork  it will never be an efficient system regionally or globally.

But if dividing up the system functionally instead of territorially is what it would take to get everybody on the same bandwagon, then let’s look for a way of doing it.

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