Julian Moxon/AMSTERDAM

A MAJOR INITIATIVE to prove the cost benefits of flying in a "free-flight" air-traffic-management (ATM) environment must be mounted if the system is ever to become reality, say leading industry officials speaking at the Flight International Airline Navigation '96 conference in Amsterdam on 9 -11 October.

While the operational benefits of the forthcoming communications, navigation, surveillance and ATM (CNS/ATM) system are not in doubt, very little work has been done to demonstrate the business case for its introduction.

"Airlines are confused," says former British Airways chief avionics-development engineer Clive Baxter. "It is unlikely that the ATM community will persuade airlines to fit equipment if the gains are only spurious-there must be a clear, sustainable business case."

Baxter's financial message was reinforced by Boeing CNS/ATM manager David Allen, who told the conference that there needs to be a "-concerted effort to bring business and financial people into consensus on CNS/ATM". He says that the "huge estimates" of savings will fail to impress the financial analysts who hold the purse strings, unless they are backed up by an acceptable business case.

Allen points to Boeing's original Future Air Navigation System (FANS) Package B proposal as a scheme, which foundered because the economic benefits were not proven. The 50 functional upgrades it contained were then reduced to five, resulting in the current FANS-1. This succeeded only after Boeing and the airlines had developed business cases based on specific route structures already supported by infrastructures.

A Euro-control study on potential operating-cost savings has found that airlines flying in European airspace could save up to ECU 650 million ($510 million) annually if Free Route Airspace were to be introduced above flight level 295 - as a direct result of reductions in sector length and the number of conflicts.

Concerns about European free flight are not limited just to the financial aspects; worries also centre on the lack of a proper institutional framework for the introduction of CNS/ATM in Europe. "A lot of people are saying they are happy with the current [ATM] situation. If we want progress, there needs to be a certain amount of coercion," says Kim O'Neil, the UK Civil Aviation Authorities' air-traffic-services planning manager.

The need for unified European airspace is "imperative" before free-flight operations make sense in such dense airspace, says O'Neil, reflecting the concerns of several speakers about the lack of real progress to break down national airspace boundaries.

Source: Flight International