Optimise Air Capacity and Operational Safety through Air Traffic Flow Management

The first rule of air traffic control (ATC) is to maintain safety. In Asia Pacific, which is experiencing an exponential increase in traffic alongside a crunch in airport capacity on the ground, there is a pressing need to have better control over the amount of traffic entering the local airspace at any given time in order to maintain a safe operation.

The first rule of air traffic control (ATC) is to maintain safety. In Asia Pacific, which is experiencing an exponential increase in traffic alongside a crunch in airport capacity on the ground, there is a pressing need to have better control over the amount of traffic entering the local airspace at any given time in order to maintain a safe operation. IATA has projected the region to be the source of more than half of new passengers globally over the next 20 years.

With Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM), flow regulations are put in place to reduce or slow down air traffic, in order to prevent airports or air traffic controllers from exceeding capacity, and to ensure that the available capacity is used as efficiently as possible. Aircraft are delayed on the ground with their engines off, saving fuel and reducing the noise factor for the homes they would otherwise be circling above.

In Asia Pacific however, there are currently no declared sector capacities or monitoring values and there are issues with over-delivery at certain times, particularly in the case of pre-night period domestic departures from regional airports. Many regional domestic airports have night restrictions due to airport lighting limitations, which make adherence to the flow measures extremely challenging at certain times of the day, and impossible at others.

There is also minimal international collaboration on flow management issues or solutions among the local systems. A centralised approach, as along the lines of the European solution of an overall Network Manager (NMOC Brussels), would help improve flow management processes in the region incrementally. There would be a readily accessible network of air traffic control data that can be fully utilised for tactical operations and interventions well in advance, reducing demand from and over-delivery at local airports. Airports would also be able to stay updated of any issues affecting the flow of traffic to optimise the available capacity.

However, charting the path towards this will be difficult; while Europe has had the benefit of around 40 years to fully convince the major airports of the advantages of an integrated flow management system, Asia Pacific is looking to achieve this in a much tighter timeframe.

It is important for the region to understand the role of ATFM in enhancing the overall efficiency of the Asia Pacific network. The decisions made by individual ATFM units have to be adhered to in order for the network plan to operate successfully. This can prove to be challenging, particularly with a change of emphasis in the decision-making process as it moves away from the major airports to a central Flow Management team.

The region will need to work together to develop local procedures and adjacent regional procedures before moving to an overall regional solution. Locally, governments will also need to develop sector and network capacities for the en-route network to allow a smoother demand profile for the important hub airports in the region.

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