December 12, 2017

North Atlantic Operational Forum – managing the world’s busiest oceanic airspace

The fifth annual North Atlantic Operational Forum (NAT Forum) was hosted by NAV CANADA in early November. The two-day conference focused on sharing ideas among industry partners on how best to effectively implement and use new technologies that will improve safety and efficiency in the North Atlantic — the world’s busiest oceanic airspace.

The forum included updates from air navigation service providers (ANSPs), and discussions on issues involving flight planning in the NAT and on improving the performance of FANS (future air navigation system)-based  Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPLDC) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contact (ADS-C).

Participants included airlines and cargo operators, regulatory authorities, national and international aviation organizations, and other industry partners as well as the North Atlantic ANS providers, including NAV CANADA, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Irish Aviation Authority, ISAVIA, NATS and NAV Portugal.

Day one of the forum included a roundtable discussion of space-based ADS-B. The entire second day was devoted to a workshop on the implementation of Performance-Based Communications and Surveillance (PBCS), planned for launch in the NAT on March 29, 2018.

Roundtable: Space-based ADS-B in the NAT

With Aireon space-based ADS-B scheduled to be operational in fall 2018, Doug Dillon, General Manager, Gander FIR, told customers at the Forum that they can expect more efficient, ‘domestic-like’ flight trajectories across the NAT and increased flexibility to operate on random routes.  Savings of about 412 kilograms of fuel are expected on average per flight. .

Paul Peers, Head of Prestwick Development with NATS, noted that reduced separation standards will lead to better performance by ANS providers in accommodating pilot requests — a predicted 82 per cent performance rate when it comes to approved clearance of requests for routing changes, up from the current standard of 62 per cent.

Dillon pointed out that space-based ADS-B will offer more flexibility for aircraft to join or leave an organized track. “In today’s world, this is harder to accommodate due to the separation standards we have to use for joining a track. In the space-based ADS-B world, we can achieve this easier, and there will need to be some communications with operators to ensure they’re aware that they will be able to join and leave organized tracks at other points besides entry and exit.”

He added space-based ADS-B is a huge breakthrough technology for NAT airspace and globally — but that the work to improve safety and efficiency doesn’t end there. Other innovations such as Fusion, SATVOICE, expanding VHF capability, and a common flight-data processing system (FDPS) between Gander and Shanwick are all part of the technology roadmap that supports current and future NAT operations.

Performance-Based Communications and Surveillance (PBCS)

PBCS is a new framework developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization. It is a set of specifications that define the technical performance and safety requirements for ADS-C and CPDLC systems, both onboard aircraft and in use by ANSPs.

On March 29, 2018, these technical and safety requirements must be met in order to apply newly developed separation standards within NAT airspace. Aircraft must receive authorization, confirming they meet these specifications, from their respective regulatory authorities to gain access to the reduced separation standards that will commence on that date.

The wide use of FANS-based CPLDC and ADS-C enabled trial operations in North Atlantic airspace of reduced separation standards, with the aim of boosting operational efficiency and reducing fuel costs and carbon emissions. These trial operations include reduced lateral separation (RLatSM) of 25 nautical miles and reduced longitudinal separation (RLongSM) of five minutes. The trial operations end next March 29, at which time they will be replaced by a similar separation standards for aircraft that are properly equipped and have their PBCS authorization.

PBCS was designed to allay concerns about the consistency of performance of these datalink systems across different airline fleets, given the variety of the configurations for these technologies in aircraft. PBCS will give assurance that the systems on aircraft are all performing consistently and accurately — before they are permitted to use the reduced separation standards.

One concern is airlines ability to obtain the required authorization from their respective regulatory authorities by next March 29. With just months to go, many aircraft have yet to obtain the required approvals and that would mean they would not be permitted to use the separation standards that they have been using for some time under the trial.

Having a mix of PBCS flights and non-PBCS flights in the NAT will increase the workload for controllers on both sides of the Atlantic. But both NAV CANADA and NATS will be ready to deal with this scenario beginning next March 29, with Gander and Shanwick ready for the transition.

One Comment

Thank you for providing this forum to deal with perhaps the worlds most significant Airspace!

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