21 June 2021

Cutting Costs and Scaling Operations as the Airspace Corridor Reopens

Before COVID-19 hit, the European air traffic management (ATM) market was adopting next generation technology and innovation en masse, and this should continue to act as the route back to success: sustainable, long-term investment that cuts costs, delivers technical excellence, boosts productivity and ensures competitive advantage well into the future.

This brief clearing of the skies across EMEA provides European Air Traffic Management systems with the opportunity to re-evaluate the sector’s need to invest in technologies and operational systems that will support this imagined future. This can be done by discovering cost saving opportunities that allow more to be done with less, more efficient services that rely less on manual labour, technologies built to support larger overall air capacity and improved passenger safety, which will be a key differentiator going forward.


For ATM operators in the European region, the next two years are going to be critical on the roadmap back to scalability and financial stability as airspace corridors begin to reopen. Having lost a lot of ground in 2020, the impetus to drive down costs is acutely felt across the sector.


ATM teams across the continent have largely grown from legacy government departments, with imperatives to ensure job security. As a result, cost savings for these teams are difficult to achieve through workforce rationalisation and therefore need to be made via the advancement and refinement of technology and processes. Automation and virtualisation will inevitably play a part in the quest to achieve reduced costs and increased efficiency going forward.


By investing in new aviation systems, ATM operators can transition to a digital foundation that delivers the benefits of AI, Machine Learning, automation, cloud computing, blockchain, smart working, compliance and further innovations. While all of this sounds expensive, the cost of not deploying these solutions can be much more expensive in the long run.


Gary Cutts, Challenge Director of the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge, emphasised the importance of technology to cutting costs and scaling operations in a recent interview with International Airport Review.


‘When we talk about these new classes of [aviation] vehicle, they’re going to perform new missions in new places at a much higher volume… So, the air traffic management systems that we have today will not cope with that volume and complexity of operation. As a result, we’re working heavily on the development of new air traffic management technologies and systems, as well as how they can integrate with the current aviation system.’

Gary’s comments hint at the approach to come across Europe. It’s a maxim that’s being repeated in numerous industries, as the need to find new cost savings and marginal gains in difficult economic circumstances becomes a priority.


Savings must be found through improved technology and processes, with automation as a key driver as set out in the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) roadmap for digitalising Europe’s aviation infrastructure.


SESAR is a joint undertaking by Europe’s aviation experts to use smart technologies, from artificial intelligence to satellite-based solutions, to enable a more automated and resilient system that can meet Europe’s demands for air travel while minimising delays and environmental impacts.


Technology can contribute to cost efficiency and scalability in a number of ways. Firstly, standardised, system-wide information management systems can help decrease the duplication and increase the predictability of data, making for a much more efficient system of information exchange. This in itself can help to optimise routing and lower fuel consumption. The other chief benefit of standardisation is a reduction in equipment costs.


Remote or virtualised towers can provide ATM services at one airport with controllers not physically present at that location, which could make a significant contribution to the economic sustainability of smaller, regional and periphery airports.


Automation, meanwhile, can facilitate the computation and sharing of key data between airports, between the tower and approach controllers, as well as the tower and the Network Manager. It can also help to instil dynamic capacity management, increasing cost effectiveness by adjusting capacity to traffic load, grouping and de-grouping sectors as required and enabling better staff resource management.


All of these capabilities address one of the fundamental challenges facing many airports across the European region, which is a lack of runway capacity. While this may not have been as much of a challenge during Covid-19, as the industry recovers and people return to the skies, it’s vital that ATMs invest in developing a robust infrastructure to serve both a return to ‘normal’ levels of traffic and future growth, too.


These are challenging times, to be sure, but the opportunity is there to secure a more profitable, sustainable future for Air Traffic Management operators across Europe.

VMware’s digital foundation can support the implementation of new technologies to drive cost reduction and instil scalability. As you work your way back to full skies, make the most of what you’ve got and do more with less with app modernisation and innovation.

Let’s get the skies moving again – contact us today to find out more

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