Defining the benefits of long-range ATFM
Exchanging data between stakeholders is vital to more efficient skies.
Balancing airspace demand with capacity is nothing new but has taken on increased importance in the post-pandemic world. CANSO’s white paper, Long-Range Air Traffic Flow Management Concept, explores a crucial tool in this endeavour.
Long-range air traffic flow management (LRATFM) has been discussed for a few years but lacked a clear definition, basically because the idea was being applied to specific problems and hence was defined according to the problem. To look at LRATFM in more general terms, the whitepaper adopts the following definition:
“The integration of ATFM solutions to deliver a collaboratively balanced flow of long-haul and short haul aircraft to an ATM resource (airport, waypoint, or a sector of an airspace).”
Benefits of LRATFM
According to Matt Shepherd, CANSO ATFM/A-CDM Workgroup expert, and Managing Director at To70 Aviation Australia, the “underpinning requirements for an effective ATFM implementation are agreed standards and procedures, accurate prediction of aircraft trajectories, and reliable, repeatable data gathering and exchange”.
With that in place, a series of benefits should accrue. Predictability, for example, is the cornerstone of enhanced efficiency. LRATFM makes this possible through improved data sharing between airspace users and ANSPs. Along with integrated decision support tools it will help to manage demand around key bottlenecks in the system.
ATCO workloads would benefit as a result, as managing holding and similar delay procedures are intensive and time consuming. In addition, aircraft arriving in an airspace in an efficient and controlled manner allows overall ATCO workload to be better managed, enhancing safety.
LRATFM would also distribute delays among all airspace users rather than forcing only local or regional airspace users to account for most of the required delay. More players are involved in LRATFM so the concept spreads delays among a greater number of flights and thereby reduces the delay assigned to each individual flight.
Furthermore, delays that are typically absorbed locally, including holding and low-altitude vectors, will move further upstream, allowing more efficient techniques to be used, such as speed-control or a controlled time of departure at the airport of origin.
And if you have a controlled time of departure then gate holds can be used instead of extended taxi times, not only improving the passenger experience but also cutting down on emissions.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest gain from LRATFM is environmental efficiency. More efficient flights mean less fuel burn and fewer emissions. In turn, it will allow airlines to make more sustainable fleet management and fuel loading decisions.
In effect, LRATFM can give ANSPs a more efficient airspace on a regular basis. When that happens, incremental improvements naturally follow.
Challenges of LRATFM
Implementing LRATFM will not be without its challenges, however. “Aircraft included in a LRATFM solution will often be one flight information region, and sometimes multiple regions, away from the issuing ATFM unit,” says Shepherd.
It makes stakeholder engagement vital. As the whitepaper explains: “When a LRATFM measure, such as a CTO, (calculated time over – the time an aircraft is assigned to arrive at a designated waypoint) will be delivered to an airborne aircraft several hours and multiple FIRs away from its destination, the support of both the airspace user and the enroute ANSPs controlling the flight will be required for effective compliance. In areas where regional ATFM collaboration has already been established, the extended engagement may be carried out through the regional ATFM group/governing body and may involve ICAO or IATA.”
In other words, data exchange is among LRATFM’s biggest challenges as well as one of its largest opportunities. There is the question of how data will be delivered, for example. A CTO may need to be delivered to an aircraft flight deck while that aircraft is in the airspace of a different ANSP. Data will therefore need to be standardised, so all parties are able to accept and deliver it as desired. Emerging data exchange technologies such as system-wide information management (SWIM) will be vital in this regard.
No time can be lost in exchanging the data either. Weather can often affect trajectories at short notice, for example, and so any associated data has to be immediately considered and refined.
Nevertheless, LRATFM is not a traffic separation/sequencing tool, such as Arrival Management (AMAN). The data accuracy level required for LRATFM is therefore not as stringent.
Other challenges include training, which must involve the entire aviation value chain. Because LRATFM will involve procedure development it requires engagement from all participants from the outset. All stakeholders are aware of, and involved in, the design of the operational framework and procedures.
The CANSO whitepaper concludes that LRATFM should enable a better balance between traffic demand and ATM capacity. The key areas of the concept all interrelate. A safe and efficient traffic flow is based on predictability. This eases ATCO workload, optimises airspace for its users and generates substantial sustainability improvements.
“Air traffic management must continue to explore and implement the latest concepts, processes and procedures if it is to meet the continuing growth of the international aviation industry,” says Shepherd. “LRATFM capability for an ANSP represents just one of many important steps along the path to a seamless, efficient future ATFM environment.”