Fifteen European aviation partners are launching a three-year programme next week to devise operational air traffic management concepts for European airspace, and develop a validated Airbus-based avionics platform to support them.
Aircraft in the Future Air Traffic Management System (AFAS) is a €35 million ($33m) effort under a European Commission 5th Framework Programme objective to develop more autonomous aircraft.
AFAS participants aim to create an integrated avionics package which will be ready for certification, and which will provide proven benefits in the European airspace environment projected for 2005.
The programme will select the most promising communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) technology, and apply it to the Airbus A320 family. More than 600 A320s and derivatives fly in European airspace, and this strategy will maximise the number of aircraft which could quickly benefit from the final avionics suite.
Participants hope the AFAS research will help to define a European solution that can be presented as an alternative to US technology, which they feel is being imposed on the European market.
Swedish consultancy Avtech is among the AFAS members. Avtech director Lars Lindberg says: "For the first time in Europe, air traffic management stakeholders are involved in a large-scale integration project which aims to demonstrate the viability of a global solution for an improvement in air traffic management."
He believes the key to this improvement is to rely increasingly on datalinking between aircraft and ground systems.
Avtech will provide an operational concept and airborne architecture for an air traffic management system based on automatic dependent surveillance (ADS), enabling highly-accurate aircraft position and intent data to be downlinked directly to ground systems.
Lindberg describes this as "transparent communication" and believes it can be a foundation for improved traffic situation awareness, leading to more efficient airspace planning strategies.
Possible applications, he says, include time-based navigation, conflict resolution and the optimising of runway throughput.
Stockholm Arlanda Airport can handle only about 36 aircraft per hour on each runway. But Lindberg states: "We should theoretically be able to have 60. We have to establish why there are physical limitations, and see if we can make things better."
He says AFAS will examine concepts such as mixed runway operations - where controllers don't dedicate runways exclusively to departures or arrivals but mix take-offs and landings to make the airport system more efficient.
Lindberg says a vital part of the AFAS research will be to address human factors of the new technology, defining the role of the crew and the sharing of responsibility between pilots and air traffic controllers.
And he adds: "There will be studies on cost-effectiveness of these operational concepts, which aim at demonstrating potential benefits in order to encourage airlines and air traffic service providers in applying them."
AFAS will officially be launched on 6 April in Toulouse. Participants include a French industry contingent comprising Aerospatiale Matra Airbus and Aerospatiale Matra ATR, along with Sextant, Airsys ATM and Sofreavia.
Germany's DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, Italy's Alenia Difesa, Spanish airport authority AENA, and Portuguese firm Skysoft are taking part, as are the UK's Smiths Industries, GKN Westland and computer systems consultancy Adelard.
Eurocontrol's Experimental Centre and the Dutch NLR aerospace laboratory will also provide support for the programme.