One of the highly debated topics in the field of aviation is ways in which air traffic can be managed more effectively in the future. Aviation analysts recognize that Air Traffic Management (ATM) is a crucial yet very sophisticated network that enables aircraft to depart, navigate, and land at various destinations. With the digital age of aviation fast approaching, stakeholders are concerned about the operability of the existing ATM systems, including Air Traffic Services (ATS), Airspace Management (AM), and Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management (ATFCM). Similarly, discussions on some of the essential changes that may be required to facilitate aviation safety are ongoing. Therefore, the expected dramatic growth of commercial air traffic and technological innovation will pose a significant challenge in providing Air Traffic Management, necessitating the evolution of Regulatory Oversight.
Increased commercial air traffic in the future will affect the provision of Air Traffic Management. Industry experts estimate that the average passenger growth will rise from 6.2%, as recorded between 2012 and 2017, to an additional 41,000 plane deliveries by 2036 due to lowered air ticket charges and the existing highly globalized economy (“Oxford Business Group”). As more people demand air transit, airlines will also be expected to enhance their operations by increasing their travel capacity and the number of aircraft. The growth will offset the efficiency of previous ground control systems, which are mainly human-centered. Airline companies that fail to either recruit additional air traffic personnel or invest in new technologies of traffic control may experience difficulties in providing ATM.
Technological development in the future will also affect ATM among major airlines. As the industry steadily approaches the predicted digital age of aviation, the aircraft sector will become more sophisticated. According to Neil Planzer, a Boeing representative, these modern planes will be “capable of far more than what ATM currently allows them to actually use” (Florence School of Regulation, para. 2). Air Traffic Management Systems that are currently in use may not be compatible with the anticipated technical and design-based aeronautical changes. Hence, air travel companies must align their ATS, AM, and ATFCM with ground systems to enhance aviation safety, an activity that may be costly for many organizations. In addition, technological advancement in aviation is dynamic; thus, firms must update their ATM frequently. Businesses that fail to improve their navigation systems and communication tools based on future technological advancement requirements will experience difficulties in providing airspace management and air traffic flow.
Furthermore, to adapt to the expected technological development of the aviation industry, Safety Management Systems (SMS) will have to undergo significant changes. Today, most aviation service providers have implemented manual technical procedures to mitigate risks arising from aircraft operations. For instance, some airlines have documented processes to manually identify, evaluate, and deal with safety hazards, an approach that may not be suitable for modern flights. Hence, to improve the efficiency of their SMS, aircraft operators should automate their systems. On the other hand, large aviation companies may adopt NASA’s Safety Assurance System, which is envisioned to have a real-time aircraft SAS. The system will enable teams in charge of technical repairs and improvement to identify planes’ capability and implement timely changes to enhance air traffic safety.
The regulatory oversight of ATM may also be reviewed to match the evolving aviation industry needs that entail manned, unmanned, and self-piloted flights. In particular, countries should develop central Air Traffic Management systems, which can easily be used to control operations within a geographical region. For instance, the United States may align its ATM with that of other countries, such as China, Japan, Europe, and the United Kingdom. In doing so, aviation control personnel from the United States will freely regulate air control for self-piloted and unmanned aircraft that land in their aerodromes. Hence, the move will reduce safety hazards that may be linked to independent traffic control. However, the success of the strategy would highly depend on the willingness of airlines and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to invest in improved satellite navigation and communication tools to facilitate the efficient exchange of information between regulators and aircraft operators. Besides, governments would have to agree on the degree of control and authority awarded to each regulator.
Overall, the growth of commercial air traffic and technological development in the future will adversely affect the provision of Air Traffic Management in the United States and other countries. Passenger growth, facilitated by lower airfares and amplified globalization, will increase at a high rate and put pressure on the existing human-centered systems. Hence, to thrive in the sector, air transport providers will be expected to recruit additional air control personnel or invest in automated traffic control programs. Besides, airlines may be required to improve their satellite navigation and communication tools to manage modernized aircraft. Federal agencies should review their regulatory oversight of air traffic management and safety management systems to handle the anticipated technological advancements in the industry.
Florence School of Regulation. “The Future of Air Traffic Management: What Can We Learn from Each Other?” European University Institute, 2016, fsr.eui.eu/future-air-traffic-management/. Accessed 20 Sep. 2019.
Oxford Business Group. “Rapid Expansion of the Global Aviation Industry Propels Investment Efforts.” 2019, oxfordbusinessgroup.com/overview/skybound-rapid-expansion-global-aviation-industry-propels-investment-efforts. Accessed 20 Sep. 2019.