Early results sought from newly-launched SESAR programme

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Efforts to overhaul the European air traffic management system reached a critical point today with the signing today of 16 agreements, collectively worth €1.9 billion ($2.6 billion), covering projects within the Single European Sky ATM Research programme.

The contracts have been signed between the SESAR Joint Undertaking - the organisation overseeing the SESAR programme - and various partners in the air navigation, airport and industrial sectors.

SESAR covers 16 work packages and 295 projects being executed over a seven-year development period to 2016. These projects involve delivering the operational and technical platform from which the future air traffic management system will be deployed.

While initial implementation is expected to begin in 2012, SESAR Joint Undertaking executive director Patrick Ky says that "quick wins" could be introduced from next year.

European transport commissioner Antonio Tajani says the financing and timely development of SESAR has "become literally vital".

Support for the new development phase is being sourced from the European Commission and Eurocontrol, which are each putting forward €700 million, while the other €500 million comes from the SESAR consortium members.

SESAR is intended to provide a three-fold increase in air traffic capacity and a ten-fold improvement in safety by 2020, through a trajectory-based, integrated traffic control system. Increased operational efficiency will also reduce fuel burn and airspace costs.

Six air navigation providers - from Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Austria and Spain - are participating. UK NATS development and investment director Ian Hall says: "This is the only opportunity to transform airspace management across Europe in order make it fit for what will still be a future when more flights will take place."

Avionics suppliers Thales and Honeywell are among the industrial partners. Honeywell is contributing €40 million to support the scheme, says the company's Paolo Carmassi: "We are developing several new technologies we want to share with the SESAR Joint Undertaking members that we believe will benefit all global aviation operators."

The company states that the future air traffic system will include such features as predictable, four-dimensional trajectories, collaborative decision-making, airborne separation assurance and enhanced-vision technology.

Airbus and Alenia will be part of the effort as will a number of major European airport operators. Airbus Engineering executive vice-president Patrick Gavin says: "Air traffic management is a limiting factor to the growth of air transport. Future systems will integrate the aircraft as an essential element of the collaborative operations."

There is also participation from specialised air traffic management industry suppliers such as Indra, Frequentis and a four-member consortium known as NATMIG, which will handle projects worth €36 million.

Eurocontrol director general David McMillan says: "SESAR's innovative work to build the future European air traffic management system and to fit it within a global context is well underway and will deliver important benefits to society and airspace users alike."