On January 31, 2014, Skyguide, the Swiss national air traffic services provider, unveiled plans to produce the first virtual air traffic control centre (ATCC). The company says amongst the measures needed to increase the efficiency of European air navigation services is the need to reduce in the number of air traffic control centres in Europe. Skyguide says there are currently more than 60, but political and local opposition, the question of potential consolidations are rarely addressed. The company says the problem is not primarily connected to the number of centres, but by: “the poor networking between them.”
Skyguide says it has been considering a new approach which involves the virtual consolidation of its two sites, Dübendorf and Geneva, to create one single ATCC. It says the idea has: “aroused interest in the international arena,” and it is taking the next step towards creating its so-called “Virtual Centre Switzerland”.
The problems of physical consolidation
Despite the widespread demand for more efficient air navigation services in Europe, Skyguide says there is a lack of feasible options to meet that demand. Its 2010 proposal to create a centralised three-nation ATCC in the Basel region was met with political and union opposition. Now, it says, as a result of technological developments, new alternatives have emerged over the last few years, including cooperation between different sites to create one joint virtual ATCC.
Skyguide believes virtual ATCCs open up a range of new possibilities and says the existing sites will be retained, the technical infrastructure, processes and organisations will be harmonised and the traffic load will be shared.
It states: “In addition to a considerable improvement in the performance of air navigation services, most importantly this will lead to operational continuity, which is currently only possible to an unsatisfactory extent (for example, when a centre shuts down)”. Skyguide says the idea is beginning to: “gain in popularity” in and beyond Europe, adding that its Virtual Centre Switzerland will play a prominent pioneering role.
Virtual Centre Switzerland
The next step towards the Virtual Centre Switzerland is just about to begin. During a transition phase starting in 2016 and covering several years, the entire upper airspace will be managed by one site when volumes of traffic are low. Because of its more extensive experience of an innovative: “stripless” operating system, this role will be taken by Geneva. Skyguide notes that one centre will occasionally be able to take over traffic from another – a first for Europe. It adds that the transition phase will not affect jobs and does not involve any changes to the service provided or the cooperation with customers and partners.
Of course, this transition phase alone will not deliver the desired increase in operational or economical efficiency yet. Skyguide says the full benefits of the Virtual Centre concept will only be fully appreciated when Switzerland adopts a fully-stripless operation throughout Switzerland. Then, it says, both Dübendorf and Geneva will be able to handle different airspace sectors on a flexible basis. As Skyguide CEO, Daniel Weder, explains: “We are creating one air traffic control centre with two sites. We are also considering possible cooperation with sites in other countries. This puts Skyguide in a promising position in a European context, without the need to hand over the sovereign task of providing air navigation services.”