Breathing life into the CATS roadmap


The transformation of air traffic management will be guided by the industry’s first 360 document.

Aviation went from a single passenger on one route to a jet-powered global industry in under a century. But even that rapid pace of change will accelerate in the years ahead. New passenger demands, innovative vehicle types, increased activity in upper and lower airspace, cutting-edge technologies and the need for a carbon-neutral future are all forcing the complete transformation of air travel.

CANSO has answered this challenge with the introduction of an industry-first Complete Air Traffic System (CATS) Global Council. Formed from leaders across the aviation value chain, the aim is to design and deliver the next generation air transport system.

A roadmap has been produced to guide aviation along this ambitious path. This outlines the immediate requirements, the multitude of mid-term goals and the longer-term actions that will need to be achieved before 2045 if aviation is to become a more agile, resilient and sustainable industry.

The roadmap contains 14 long-term goals based on the seven building blocks of the CATS Global Council vision.

Living document

The crucial point is that the roadmap is a live document, meaning it is constantly being updated and adapted to circumstance to ensure that the industry has an optimised path to success. Direct engagement with all stakeholders, including ICAO and national and regional authorities will support this effort and attempt to create the requisite policy framework.

Already, more than 70 milestones and 100 actions have been identified but this is just the beginning of more than two decades of hard work.

A few examples of the ideas being pursued speak to the holistic approach of the CATS Roadmap. An immediate goal is securing ICAO approval of the Long-Term Aspirational Goal for aviation carbon emissions at the 41st ICAO Assembly. The industry has already committed to a net zero 2050 goal but having countries aligned through ICAO would generate increased state engagement and new policy measures designed to support such critical measures as sustainable aviation fuel production.

Another key milestone of the roadmap is the development of an innovative new high-level Concept of Operations (CONOPS) designed for the next era of traffic management. The new CONOPS will aspire to create global airspace that is safe, fair, intelligent and interoperable, leveraging revolutionised design, technology and services to power global mobility and prosperity

It will also be essential for the harmonised integration of Advance Air Mobility (AAM) and high-altitude operations.

A few years out is a comprehensive gap analysis between existing ATM and ATM-related services and the desired outcome in 2045, taking into consideration the technologies on the horizon. Best practice will be incorporated wherever possible and any shortfall in required development identified.

Also anticipated in the 2025 timeframe is the integration of better weather prediction. This will have a multitude of benefits but perhaps the most interesting will be capability to detect regions of likely persistent contrail formation. By 2030, this will lead to contrail avoidance. Flight plans and ATM route tools will guide airspace users around areas of likely contrail formation.

Further out, estimated about 2035, is an assessment of the environmental impact of new airspace users, such as drones and urban mobility vehicles. These new entrants are still in development, but all observers expect their services to grow exponentially in the coming years. It is likely the work will include a noise analysis for certification purposes.

Why the CATS roadmap is so important

Of course, there are many other documents that speak to the future of ATM. But the CATS roadmap, says Eduardo Garcia, CANSO’s Manager, European ATM Coordination and Safety, is the first 360-degree document. “It is not just about technological development but covers political, economic, social, environmental, legal and sovereignty aspects as well,” he says. “We all know airspace sovereignty is a key issue for many governments so why ignore it?

“Also, the roadmap includes insight from suppliers and other stakeholders,” he continues. “There is always the impression that drone operators or urban mobility companies want something different to air navigation service providers (ANSPs). But the CATS roadmap brings everything together for the first time to provide the most comprehensive overview.”

Moreover, the CATS roadmap is a clear indication that the industry is being pro-active and not relying on bodies, such as ICAO, to do the legwork. “It sends a message that we accept we are accountable,” says Garcia.

The CATS Global Council that deliberates on the roadmap continues to welcome new members and new ideas. The greater the insight, the easier the workload in the years ahead. Aside from fleshing out the roadmap – a work programme will be released in the coming months – the CATS roadmap will be assessed to see how it differs from other major global and regional master plans, including the Global Air Navigation Plan and the ATM Master Plan.

“It will be interesting to assess the inconsistencies,” Garcia says. “Because that will spark discussions about the way forward and the best solutions. And if necessary, we will adapt the CATS roadmap. That is the beauty of the project. It is inclusive, it is flexible, and it will guide the future of ATM.”