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1090 Global

On Your Six: Interview with Patrik Peters, President & CEO of International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Association


“On Your Six” is a blog series where we sit down with industry experts and leadership to gain their thoughts on the industry’s most pressing issues, trends and visions of the future.

This month, we connected with Patrik Peters, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Association’s President & CEO. We sat down with Mr. Peters to explore how the AireonSM system will impact Air Traffic Controllers across the globe.


(1) What does IFATCA view as the future of surveillance in the industry?

When we talked about surveillance in the past, we understood radar systems, them being primary or secondary. This has changed tremendously since the 1990s. Today surveillance can be radar, ADS-B or multilateration (MLAT). In several countries secondary surveillance radar (SSR) stations are being decommissioned and replaced by systems combining ADS-B with MLAT. Looking at maintenance costs and the complex technical and mechanical installations, we witness a trend towards these new technologies. ADS-B and MLAT may be the future surveillance system by default, though primary radar systems still have the advantage of being non-dependent. Radar will probably survive as a backup or possibly as the main system in terminal areas. Space-based ADS-B will be adopted as surveillance system for oceanic and remote areas where terrestrial stations either cannot be placed or would have too high a cost.


(2) How will the capabilities provided by space-based ADS-B impact IFATCA members? What kind of a day-to-day difference will there be?

Since radar systems are limited due to the necessity of a physical installation on the ground and due to range, space-based ADS-B has major advantages in oceanic and remote areas. If the system delivers as designed, the air traffic control profession in oceanic control facilities would change dramatically. Currently thousands of flights are being managed through procedural control; this would disappear, as they would then be under surveillance. This would require installation of new equipment for air traffic controllers and a design of new procedures and training. We foresee this to happen at first in the North Atlantic region.


(3) IFATCA is divided into four regions -Africa & the Middle East, the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe. What unique advantages of Aireon’s space-based ADS-B do you see as the most beneficial to each membership region? 

Space-based ADS-B will have the most impact on remote or less-equipped regions of the world.  In Africa, for example, vast areas like the Sahara Desert could benefit from surveillance with no need of ground stations. Not only could air traffic control gain from this technology – also the alerting services could leap forward a big deal: the disappearance of MH370 raised many questions among the public who found it difficult to understand that many areas of the world are not under real-time surveillance. Space-based ADS-B has the potential to cover this gap.


(4) IFATCA is working closely with the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE), in part, to standardize air traffic management and speed up the implementation of new technologies across European airspace. How does space-based ADS-B factor into those plans? What kind of technologies need to be in place for Europe to take advantage of the Aireon system?

Continental airspace in Europe, being a region with very good conventional, i.e. radar surveillance coverage, may not use space-based ADS-B as a primary surveillance source, but could benefit as an augmented or contingency layer. On the other hand, Europe has many areas of oceanic airspace: UK, Ireland, Iceland, Portugal and Spain have the responsibility of providing air traffic services in large areas of the North Atlantic or the Atlantic corridor between Europe and South America. Space-based surveillance has the potential of changing the way air traffic control is provided here. In the more remote regions of Northern Europe, space-based ADS-B could serve as an alternative to ground stations.


(5) Most of the benefits of the Aireon system are rooted in its ability to track the location of aircraft anywhere in the world, closing the gap that currently leaves over 70-percent of global airspace un-surveilled. How does space-based ADS-B help IFATCA support one of its objectives “to promote safety, efficiency and regularity in international air navigation”?

Many areas of the world are not under surveillance. Depending of the amount of traffic, this has not been considered a major issue until MH370 went missing. From an economical point of view, it would make little sense to provide surveillance in an area where there is very little air traffic. MH370 changed everything because the plane not only vanished, but changed its route, thus making its flight plan inadequate to find the plane and leaving the investigators with little knowledge on where to search. A global surveillance system would have the potential to quickly detect any deviation from the flight plan. In the North Atlantic region, real-time surveillance is currently not possible. For many years, traffic has been safely handled using agreed procedures and separation standards. Although, we are encountering more and more capacity problems that could be alleviated if we were to study reduced separation standards, and thus leading to a gain in efficiency.


(6) What does IFATCA view as the biggest challenge facing the aviation industry today?

Aviation is a challenging transport sector. A few years ago, nobody would have thought that we would have to think about how to keep recreational drones away from airports, or that we would be considering supersonic flight again. The way in which we will use automation to assist the growing needs of aviation is also one of the recurrent areas of discussion.

Drones are thought to be considered a major disruptor. We still don’t know how they will mix with other airspace users or how they will maintain separation with one another. New projects finding applications for drones pop up almost daily whilst we’re still looking for answers.