Julian Moxon/BRETIGNY

Researchers at Eurocontrol's Bretigny centre in France have embarked on a programme aimed at giving pilots flying in crowded airspace limited involvement in air traffic management (ATM). The hope is that controller workload can be reduced, or at least stabilised, as air traffic continues to increase.

Equipped with an onboard MMI5000 "traffic situation display" giving speed and direction vectors of nearby aircraft, and potential conflict areas, pilots would effectively be able to undertake simple deviations from their planned route to avoid traffic, or to improve sequencing.

Initially, two kinds of ATM activity would be permitted - avoiding crossing/passing traffic and station keeping/traffic merging. All participating aircraft would need to be fitted with automatic dependent surveillance broadcast equipment to transmit position and velocity data.

Eric Hoffman, project manager for aircraft performance and operations at Eurocontrol, says the plan would initially cover only "very basic" pilot involvement. "Delegation would be proposed by the controller and would require pilot agreement, but problem identification and definition of the solution would remain the responsibility of the controller," he says.

One example where the scheme would allow pilot involvement is where an aircraft is told to break off its planned climb to avoid traffic. "If the controller is very busy it can take several minutes before the pilot receives clearance to resume the climb," says Hoffman. Instead, the pilot would advise the controller as soon as the aircraft was "clear of traffic".

Similarly, for station keeping, the controller might advise the pilot of "electronic traffic, 10nm [18km] ahead", which the pilot would identify. He would use the situation display to help maintain the correct distance behind the target.

Eurocontrol's Maastricht upper air traffic control centre is being used to study what proportion of traffic could be delegated in this way. "We're trying to find a workable concept," says Hoffman. "We've got something that makes sense, and we've developed real-time solutions. Now we want to put controllers and pilots together to see what kind of reaction we get."

Trials will start in March, centring on the vertical aspects of station keeping (the simpler of the two), using a generic cockpit simulator. From October, a version of the system will be available on the Internet to attract comment from the aviation community.

The "evolutionary air-to-ground collaborative ATM concepts programme" is being conducted as part of Eurocontrol's Free Route Experimental Encounter Resolution study into autonomous aircraft operations in managed airspace. It is aimed at operational service entry in 2005, and is seen as the first step towards full autonomous aircraft capability in 2020.

Source: Flight International