Connecting the dots above Turkey
Air traffic in Turkey is expected to grow significantly beyond 2020 necessitating the need for new air traffic management systems. Keith Mwanalushi looks at some possible solutions.
The appalling terrorist attack at Atatürk airport in June this year was a blow to Turkish aviation. But it is a testament to the sector’s resilience that the airport was operating again within a few hours.
The global aviation community has condemned the attack and has shown overwhelming solidarity with Turkey.
Despite the tragic events, Rafael Schvartzman, European regional vice president for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is in no doubt that Turkey is a nation going places – quite literally, in its growing desire to travel by air.
Latest IATA figures show that passenger numbers to, from and within Turkey are set to grow from 79 million last year to 171 million by 2035.
“That would make Turkey the 10th biggest aviation market on the planet,” Schvartzman commented. “It means that aviation will be an even bigger contributor to, and facilitator of, Turkey’s economic strength. At present aviation supports more than €48 billion ($53bn) in gross domestic product (GDP) and more than a million jobs. The potential is for these numbers to increase.”
But there are challenges. Schvartzman has observed that all this growth has big implications for aviation infrastructure. “The government has responded by planning the world’s largest airport in Istanbul, but equally important is the infrastructure in the sky – the air traffic management (ATM) system,” he said.
In June, IATA representatives were in Turkey to highlight the value of aviation and focus on improvements to the country’s air navigation services (ANS). “Air traffic control (ATC) across Europe is facing a crisis as failure to reform and modernise ANS is leading to greater delays, increased carbon emissions, and limits on capacity,” said Schvartzman.
“For many years, European governments have had a project – the single European sky (SES) – which is supposed to deal with these issues. But progress on SES is stalled. The result is that air travel in Europe is slower, more expensive, the continent is less connected than it could be, and Turkey is losing out in terms of jobs and economic development.”
Schvartzman reckoned if the [Turkish] government made it a priority to modernise ANS, the benefits were potentially huge. IATA forecasts that, in 2035, Turkey stands to gain an extra €10 billion in economic activity, including 111,000 more jobs. “Turkish consumers will benefit from fewer delays, shorter flights, and more connections. There will be fewer emissions and airlines will be more competitive thanks to lower costs. It is a win-win for everybody,” Schvartzman projected.
The modernisation of European airspace is a Europe-wide project, but each individual nation has its part to play, including Turkey. “What is needed is a national airspace strategy detailing the key milestones and with the support of airline stakeholders; how Turkey is going to reform and modernise its air traffic control to keep pace with demand. As Turkey takes its place among the foremost aviation nations, it has an opportunity to showcase not only a world-class facility at the New Istanbul Airport, but also a world-class air navigation system,” he added.
Gianpiero Lorandi, SVP for the traffic control systems line of business, security and information systems division at Leonardo-Finmeccanica, feels his company’s SMART system is exactly what Turkey needs, in terms of infrastructure and ATC capabilities, to successfully confront expected passenger growth beyond 2020.
“The system has been designed and implemented to allow a significant reduction of controller’s workload, reduction in separation between aircraft, more efficient route charges, safety and security guaranteed in the voice-over-IP, radar network distribution, processing and multiple levels of operational contingency between sites,” Lorandi explained.
The SMART system supported the 21.4% growth in air passengers at Istanbul Airport last year, according to an Airports Council International (ACI) Europe report, with no operational issues or shortfall in terms of system performances, Lorandi pointed out.
“In terms of key technologies, we believe that the interoperability through secure networks and the digital communications are today enabling technologies for supporting the growth,” he continued.
A network centric approach and a dynamic airspace management is also enhancing the level of coordination he said. “Automation tools for better supporting the controller’s decision process in assuring separation are essential. Reduced errors between the actual and planned flight trajectories increase predictability, and capacity-planning tools will also help to provide a better service to airlines.”
In the long term, he sees different technologies emerging as potential enablers of growth and safety. “But it will take time for them to be accepted in the market and by the regulatory bodies,” he added.
In general, Lorandi predicts that system-wide capabilities will outpace sensor capability. “Technology is clearly essential to drive the future air navigation to have low emissions, better performances and a reduced workload on controllers,” he said.
Regardless of location, to successfully manage air traffic growth one must focus on safety and efficiency. Modifications to existing ATM systems or procedures should be designed to address both of these important aspects, with efforts prioritised to target the areas with the most acute growing pains. Given the density of air traffic in the terminal airspace and on the airport surface, these areas of congestion need particular attention when traffic levels are increasing. This is the case in Turkey.
To enable safe and efficient ground movements at congested airports, air traffic solutions provider Saab recommends the installation or expansion of advanced surface movement and guidance systems (A-SMGCS).
“By combining multilateration, surface movement radar, and advanced traffic displays, controllers in the ATC tower are provided with clear, predictable situational awareness and automated safety alert,” said Bengt Ekholm, VP, head of Eastern Europe at Saab Technologies.
At airports where traffic is expected to grow, Ekholm feels such a system is a must. “It not only benefits airlines and passengers, but a well-functioning air traffic system is a huge economic enabler for a region.”
While an A-SMGCS can be used in coordination with existing procedures and systems, one should also consider upgrading some of the important adjacent systems. For example, in many places in the world controllers still utilise paper strips to track the progress of a flight. New technology can minimise controller workload and incorporate additional safety alerting functions.
To this end, Saab recommends augmenting A-SMGCS with electronic flight strips and other decision support tools. “This reduces the cognitive load placed on tower controllers and allows them to keep their heads up and their eyes looking out of the window,” Ekholm said.
He explained that additional traffic flow management tools, like a departure manager, could also provide enormous benefits. “They utilise computer algorithms to optimise aircraft sequences and throughput while requiring very little controller interaction. The result is a more optimal use of resources and more time for ATC controllers to do their primary job – issue clearances and ensure the safe separation of aircraft.”
To facilitate an increase of air traffic in areas with little or no current air traffic, however, it is not enough to simply eliminate bottlenecks. Ekholm continued: “One must consider how to provide air traffic control services in the places where people and goods need to travel. To address this challenge, Turkey and other growing markets can look to revolutionary new digital tower solutions [often referred to as remote towers] that replace traditional brick-and-mortar towers with lower-cost camera systems.”
Lastly, Ekholm pointed out that wide area surveillance is also an important capability for markets with growing air traffic. He said wide area multilateration (WAM) is an effective way to accurately track aircraft over a wide region or entire nation. “Not only can the initial investment for WAM be much lower than that for older, traditional radar systems, the technology offers incredible flexibility and is a bridge to the future of automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B).”
Additionally, once an airport surface multilateration system is in place to support an A-SMGCS, Ekholm said it could easily be expanded to provide surveillance in the terminal and en route airspace and help provide extended coverage to enable better cross-border collaboration.