21 June 2021

Enhanced Safety and Security is the Bedrock of Air Control

The last year has changed Air Traffic Management (ATM) immeasurably, and perhaps permanently.

International lockdowns have eroded traffic through major transport hubs, while the introduction of remote working has reduced the need for business travel. Those that can travel are less keen, with ongoing concerns around the safety of doing so.


The result has been an unprecedented and precipitous drop off in the number of planes in the sky. Although the roll out of vaccination programs across the world has introduced some hope that recovery may be just around the corner, that recovery is by no means guaranteed.


If ATM operators are to go beyond ‘survive at all costs’ and begin to thrive again, it’s imperative to put enhanced safety and security at the heart of the recovery roadmap.


Frost & Sullivan recently reported that, ‘Despite the downturn caused by the pandemic, the global commercial ATM market is expected to flourish due to the rising adoption of automation and digital technologies, including remote towers, predictive technologies, and artificial intelligence. The market is expected to reach $4.89 billion by 2027 from $3.64 billion in 2020, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.0%’.


These are encouraging numbers but pose a question for operators as to how they can use technology to build resilient, secure systems that deliver on heightened public expectations for safety-first travel. Safety may not be a new concern for the aviation industry, by any stretch, but as traffic volumes increase again, ATM organisations must consider new health risks in addition to the rigorous safety requirements of old.


The European Commission has recently stated that the reliability and safety rates for air transport, if maintained, require a qualitative leap for the future as the capacity limit becomes critical.


Technology, as ever, must be the driver of secure-by-design systems. This much is borne out by the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) initiative’s close focus on the modernisation of air traffic control infrastructure in its mission to develop the next generation of ATM systems and ensuring the safety and fluidity of air traffic globally.


The message is clear: the future of ATM cannot be built from the current status quo. Current systems are close to obsolete, ill-suited to the rapid social and economic development across Europe. ATM operators must, therefore, join the adoption of advanced technologies as laid out in the Frost & Sullivan report.


AI & automation can, for instance, support workforces on the ground in the task of predictive maintenance, ensuring all systems and hardware are kept to an optimum standard for safety.


The adoption of System Wide Information Management (SWIM) systems, in which interconnected systems exchange often-sensitive information, poses a challenge to ATM operators with regard to cyber security. As acknowledged by Jochen Bauer, Director of Sales and Marketing at Guntermann & Drunck GmbH, a single cyber-attack could easily affect multiple interconnected systems within a SWIM architecture.


With SWIM systems forming a crucial part of the Single European Sky framework, ATM operators must plan for and implement cyber-secure methods to guard against the potential weak points of these systems.


Technology can be used to upgrade keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) infrastructure in control towers and technical buildings. In addition, KVM can also assist with the automation of safety processes and instil cyber security by establishing redundant systems on a different code system architecture.


Frost & Sullivan also expect advances in technology to speed up the adoption of SWIM architecture:

‘Although the uptake of system-wide information management services is currently slow due to security and liability concerns, major technology advancements (5G, blockchain) are expected to increase momentum in line with adjacent communications markets in the long term.’

While many European operators look to “reboot the system” from within, safety and security must be front of mind to account for threats from without. This includes the imperative to redouble cybersecurity and renovate control systems to optimise flight safety and security.


As the aviation industry as a whole begins to take flight again after being grounded for much of 2020, passengers will return with a renewed focus on safety, while the required modernisation of ATM systems will bring security requirements of its own. By adopting predictive technologies, remote tower capabilities and other AI-driven solutions, ATM operators can ensure the next generation of systems are designed with security at their heart.


VMware’s digital foundation can help to build smarter, more resilient systems while supporting workforces on the ground in both predictive maintenance and the future-design of ATM architecture. Let us help you create best-in-class software that boosts efficiency and enhances safety.

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