A Time for Change


It’s now a year since lockdowns and mask wearing became a way of life across the globe and until now, our focus has been firmly fixed on keeping our staff safe, driving costs out of our businesses and ensuring the continued safe and expeditious flow of air traffic. But with the vaccine rollout gaining pace globally there is light at the end of the tunnel and I believe that now is the right time for us to start shifting our attention to the future.

So – standing in today – what do we know about that future that awaits us? The first thing we can fairly accurately predict is that the future will be uncertain. When traffic restrictions are lifted and reimposed as the virus ebbs and flows – traffic demand is likely to remain unpredictable. For ANSPs it means that they have to be ready to accommodate this demand, equipping their operation and people to handle these swings in traffic will be a key focus.

The next thing we know about the future is that it will bring great change. We’ve already had a taste of that over the past 12 months. The pandemic has accelerated change across society and also in our industry where technology and innovation have not stood still. Throughout the past year we’ve seen greater use of advanced technologies like remote training and simulation, remote working, and the sharing of knowledge and best practice virtually.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has been a catalyst for change and we’ve been forced to adopt new ways of doing things much faster than ever before. We need to continue to seize the opportunity to adapt swiftly even when we’ve beaten this virus because I believe that in the post-COVID world, there will be greater demand for agility within ATM. The aviation industry is hurting and we will need a razor-sharp focus on swiftly responding to our customers’ needs – whether that’s our airline customers, or our ANSP customers. There may also be calls for us to reimagine our businesses.

Questions we might ask ourselves include – do I really need to procure all my own technology and assets, or are there more things I could deliver through collaboration with industry partners? Are there some services I provide today that I could outsource in the future to save costs? And, how can I harness the power of automation, artificial Intelligence or digitalisation to improve the efficiency of my operation?

These are big questions that could lead us to a very different business and/or operating model. Instead of fearing this change – we should embrace it and get on the front foot. We should start challenging ourselves, before others do it for us.

So I believe that the future will herald uncertainty and big changes. What else is on the horizon that we should turn our attention to as we emerge from this crisis?

Safely integrating all airspace users into our skies should be a key priority for us. Until now, CANSO, and the ATM industry, have often been on the sidelines of the wider aviation community talking about defining our future skies. CANSO decided to tackle this head on by creating the Complete Air Traffic System Global Council to bring together some of the key leaders from aircraft manufacturers, drone manufacturers and operators, space agencies and the ATM industry to collectively build a blueprint for future skies.

In March, we held our first meeting with CEOs, DGs and VPs from across all domains. We set the foundations for how we will work together and agreed that the Council will create a picture of our skies that’s holistic, future-facing and one that absolutely considers the art of possible. The most important outcome of the Council in my mind, is that it placed the ATM industry firmly at the heart of the debate.

Another critical issue we need to get ahead of is sustainability. You could argue that one of the plusses of the reduced traffic levels from the past year, is that aviation’s environmental footprint has reduced. The drop in air traffic enabled ANSPs to provide more efficient trajectories to the aircraft that were flying, but as traffic starts picking up again, we will be presented with a very different challenge.

The decarbonisation of aviation is an expensive pathway to walk that requires massive investment at a time when the industry is on its knees economically. Much of our future hopes hang on sustainable aviation fuels, but our ability to ramp up production levels to make a meaningful dent in aviation emissions is unclear.

Many want 2019 to be the emissions high point for aviation, where we implement changes over the next three years before traffic picks up again. But besides retiring older aircraft, not enough is happening to put us on that path. There will be calls on the ATM industry to play our part – to improve the efficiency of our operations to plug that gap.

So these are just a few of things we know about the future, but one thing is certain. CANSO will continue to play its part – scanning the horizon and making sure that as an industry, we are ready for the opportunities and threats that lay ahead.