AIM service provision in the light of SES

Posted: 17 March 2006 | Raimund Fridrich, Head of Corporate Publishing, Skyguide | No comments yet

The term Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) is relatively new and covers not only the former Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) but also MET and other geospacial aviation data (e.g. Airport data). Its role and the services it offers are already changing significantly. In the future, AIM will be fully based on integrated data management.

The term Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) is relatively new and covers not only the former Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) but also MET and other geospacial aviation data (e.g. Airport data). Its role and the services it offers are already changing significantly. In the future, AIM will be fully based on integrated data management.

The vision is to operate a fully digital data chain from origin to utilisation. Data from airports, procedure design groups, obstacle and terrain surveying facilities and others, are gathered and directly entered into the data chain. After various processing steps, including validation, verification and storing, data will be exchanged on a worldwide basis and provided at the right time, the right place and the right quality. This may include direct feed into airliner ops systems, directly into the flight deck and ATM systems. This requires AIM to have one common and harmonised set of data.

Air traffic management is actually a purely physical problem that could be fully defined in mathematical terms and controlled through ‘measurement and control technology’. That means that it is possible to exclude humans almost completely from the loop of operational control and management. One of the major prerequisites is a common frame of reference for the entire system description, including all the data (e.g. navigation data) and measurement points (positioning).

The future role of AIM will be to manage this data process from the origination to data provision, including the data logistics and the production of services and products based on customer-driven requirements.

External macro-economic challenges

ICAO, Eurocontrol and the aviation industry are driving and requesting states, and with it implicitly the ANSPs, to meet agreed requirements and to implement this digital data chain. But AIM units are also facing additional challenges. These are the result of a political trend towards an open, global economy in which the state reduces its offering to core tasks and outsources anything that a privately owned company could provide more competitively. Additionally, air traffic is still growing at double-digit rate and is about to reach the limits of the capacity allowed by the current air traffic management system. To remedy all of these issues, solutions are being sought that will change the business rules fundamentally. With its launch of the Single European Sky initiative (SES), the European Community is at the forefront of this trend.

All these challenges considered together, the impact of which is only gradually being realised, may be best understood as external macro-economic challenges that affect all the players in the market place. In a strategic analysis, these macro-economic changes would be subdivided into the political, economic, social and technological factors (often referred to by the acronym PEST). These challenges are discussed below in terms of their political, economic, and technological aspects together with the possible and presumable impact on the ANSP, or more precisely the AIM industry.

Technological challenges

ANSPs are required to implement ICAO SARPs and the latest amendments to the ICAO annexes, in the area of data integrity, among others. The incremental requirement of the obstacles and terrain data is just another complexity that is still awaiting implementation. For many years, Eurocontrol and the associated states have pushed forward with the data integrity issue and have formalised it within the ‘AIM 2000+ strategy’ document and the subsequent Eurocontrol Convergence and Implementation Plan (ECIP). With the European AIS Database (EAD), Eurocontrol has launched a service for data harmonisation on a pan-European basis and each AIM provider is required to fill in and maintain its national data set (static and dynamic data).

While having full and equal data integrity on a pan-European basis must be supported for the good of the whole industry, the way in which it is achieved is not uncritical and will have a massive impact on the strategic freedom left to the individual ANSP.

AIM providers may choose to outsource data management to EAD by reducing their operations to the management of data acquisition from the originators and entering it into the EAD via the terminals provided. AIM units may equally build up the required know-how, and develop the necessary technology and processes to run their own, independent data operation. There are also many options in between such as a cooperative effort with another ANSP.

There are reasons for and against each of the alternatives, although we believe outsourcing data management is unadvisable as, in future, the ATM domain and, to a greater extent, the aviation industry, will become fully dependent on digital data. The ability to produce, manage and distribute this data will become AIM providers’ core competency. The down side is, as mentioned, building up internal data management requires additional and different technology, processes and know-how than that usually owned by AIM units. It means building up internal research and development facilities (R&D) – a very costly undertaking. As a result, various AIM providers in Europe may not be able to master this new technology, will lose access to the market and ultimately have problems fulfilling their mandate.

Economic challenges

The investments required to not only cope with the current and further technological challenges, but also to finance the change process from the current Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) to the future AIM is massive when measured in terms of investment over the last few decades.

An additional challenge is that AIM is not directly compensated for its services, but indirectly via route charges linked to the performance and capabilities of the ATM process. In addition, the old AIS which has been neglected over the past decades, was often regarded as a poor cost factor and of limited use to the ATM business. There was and still is no direct financial benefit in having a strong state-of-the-art AIM so investment in it is often limited. Services have deteriorated and the broad reality today is that almost all AIS services, in their present form, are of little use to the majority of AIM customers. Nobody flies with AIPs nowadays, commercial aviation now has limited if any use for paper based information and the flight-planning process has also changed quite a bit since the glory days of the AROs. All such services were replaced by companies such as Jeppesen, LIDO and EDS and are now gone for good. On the other hand, ATM systems are not directly fed through the AIM data chain. ATM units are not regarded as or handled as AIM customers. Nevertheless, each country still has its own AIM unit.

The questions that remain are how can AIM units be compensated for their services more directly and what incentive do AIM units have to invest in new technologies and procedures to serve the industry better. Equally, how will the industry finance short to mid-term investments in data management if the major way that ANSPs are measured is via performance, safety and the absolute amount of the unit rate to be invoiced as route charge. The strategy that the Group EAD – a contracted Eurocontrol service provider – seems to pursue is to bypass AIM providers. However, this monopolistic approach will call into question any investments made by the ANSP so far or planned for the future. This jeopardises the return on investment (ROI), making its achievement more unlikely than ever. It is also worth considering the legal basis of the business relationship and the practice of direct contracts between airspace users and Group EAD.

Political challenges

The EU’s SES initiative is probably the most important driver that is fundamentally changing the decades-old business practices of the AIM market. The increasingly overloaded European ATM system is creating substantial pressure on AIM providers, forcing them to move from the current paper based to a digital data infrastructure meeting the requirements for a more efficient ATM system. This requires the entire AIM production infrastructure to be replaced and to invest heavily in future-oriented technologies.

AIM Units are challenged by the following changing conditions:

  • SES has the potential for AIM units to change the way they ensure and finance the future business
  • To overcome the current limitations, ATM systems and airspace users require more precise data that will allow for an increase in capacity within the existing boundaries (shorter separation, PRNAV etc.) requiring higher quality and safety standards.

The SES initiative provides a regulative framework for:

  • Separation of service provision from regulation
  • Certification of national ANSPs
  • Accreditation of service providers
  • Military and civil ATM cooperation/integration for a more efficient use of the European airspace

To date, ANSPs have been tasked with the provision of air navigation services mandated 50 years ago (Chicago Convention). The designation of the service provider and the financing of these services by route charges has remained unchanged.

The SES is requesting for regulatory authorities not only to make all ANSPs undergo certification but also to accredit a service provider for the State’s responsibility. In addition to SES, most states comply with the regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This may require that services in many instances could not simply be allocated to the current national ANSP, but may be reassigned based on a fair and transparent submission procedure. A transition period is foreseen by SES.

With the exception of the Communication, Navigation and Surveillance unit (CNS) and the tower function of the air traffic management process, all other functions and services are not attached to a particular site or national borders and may be awarded to any accredited and capable service provider.

Challenges summarised

Summarising and interpreting the macro-economic trends, AIM units are facing nothing less than a complete transition into digitalisation and remodeling of the business model. Over the next 5 to 15 years, this might ultimately lead to a consolidation of AIM service providers. Many factors speak for this, among them:

  • There are too many AIM units and almost none have gained critical size when it comes to a digitalisation of the business. Therefore the costs may be too high when measured against the value offered.
  • The digital data chain requires extensive adaptation of the organisation, its financial model and market orientation as well as the means to carry out research and development. It may be assumed that some AIM providers are not prepared to undertake this step.
  • Heavy investment into new technology, process design and know-how is required to build up a new AIM infrastructure. Not all AIM providers are in the position to finance this technological change.
  • The split between providing national data and service provision for end-user (e.g. integration of data for added value service and products) may well become a reality. Not all AIM providers are capable of entering this service market that offers additional revenues and assured higher margins.

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