Nothing illustrates Boeing's long-term faith in commercial aviation more than its continued efforts to kick-start the transformation of global air traffic management (ATM). "This is Boeing's number one priority," says John Hayhurst, president of Boeing Air Traffic Management. "We have a vested interest, and tomorrow could not be early enough."

ATM, like Connexion, was formed in November 2000. "We had just come through three horrific summers of massive air traffic delays," says Hayhurst. "Boeing decided it was a trend the industry could not stand." Forecasts showed air transport growing 50% in 10 years, while US plans to modernise the infrastructure promised a 30% increase in capacity. "We could see a point when we would not sell aircraft because airlines would be concerned about their ability to operate them profitably. Boeing's biggest business was at risk."

But Boeing had some technologies that might help. "There were a couple of small pockets of people working ATM in Commercial Airplanes and Space &Communications," says Hayhurst. Unifying the two teams was one reason for forming a separate business unit. Others included bringing a highly visible focus on the issue under Phil Condit's leadership to ensure the greatest likelihood of success. As with Connexion, Boeing also wanted to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture. "ATM bridges the space between BCA's knowledge of commercial aircraft and the network-centric approach of IDS," adds Hayhurst.

ATM made a quick start when then-president Harry Stonecipher announced Boeing would define its vision for the future of ATM within six months. "We not only had to create a vision, we had to create a team, and we had six months," says Hayhurst. "We had a timetable and no preconceived notions." ATM did have a clear focus - to create a commitment to move to a next-generation system. "It is as difficult an issue as Boeing has ever tackled."

The business vision is also clear - expand the market for BCA. "The biggest single element of ATM's value to Boeing shareholders is the opportunity to sell more aircraft - no ifs, ands or buts," says Hayhurst. IDS will also benefit. "There is increasing interest in UAVs, which need to operate in the same airspace."

Using network-centric concepts developed by IDS, ATM has defined an architecture addressing four issues: increasing capacity, enhancing safety, improving security and providing environment benefits. There are four elements - use of aircraft trajectory information for active separation; a common information network tying users together; simplified airspace design; and a hybrid ground/ space-based communication, navigation and surveillance infrastructure.

"The challenge is a policy issue, not a technology issue," says Hayhurst. "We have engaged a lot of stakeholders in working toward a shared long-term vision. Equally important, we are working with policymakers to create a clear view of the need to undertake a transformation."

In July 2001, ATM started a "working together" process with stakeholders in the USA, and later Europe, to capture the requirements for a next-generation system. "Working together came out of the 777 playbook, but it was a much different task," says Hayhurst. "Airlines are in business for the same purpose, but the diversity in purpose among ATM stakeholders is much greater." The requirements document was "not 100%, but was far better than anything before".

Hayhurst's objective is ambitious: "We would like to see the US government committed to a next-generation system through the formation of a high-level multi-agency programme office with a clear commitment to effect transformation, appropriately funded by Congress."

He believes progress is possible, but warns: "If we do not get started soon, we will be in as deep a hole as 2000 four years from now."

Source: Flight International