Interview on communications, navigation and surveillance

With Nancy Graham (Director Air Navigation Bureau, International Civil Aviation Organization)
By Lucia Pasquini on 10 December 2010

Nancy Graham is the Director of the Air Navigation Bureau of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations specialised agency whose mandate is to establish and revise international standards for safe, secure and sustainable development of civil aviation.

In her current position, which she took up in April 2007, Ms Graham oversees much of the work undertaken in the development of ICAO’s technical Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), which are critical to the safety of the international air transport infrastructure.

What are ICAO’s priorities in the field of communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS)?

ICAO has three CNS programmes which have been given high-priority status by the Council of ICAO and are based on the ICAO concept of operations.
Specifically, these:

  • outline the State infrastructure and aircraft equipage elements necessary for a seamless sky in tomorrow’s aviation system, on the basis of operational needs;
  • ensure adequate frequency spectrum allocation to support existing and planned operational capabilities for civil aviation;
  • maintain and develop performance-based standards, recommended practices and guidance material for current and emerging technologies in CNS.

Each of these initiatives has a range of supporting projects delivered by the voluntary workforce (e.g. panels, study groups and task forces organised through the Air Navigation Bureau) provided to ICAO by Contracting States and international organisations.

Global interoperability is essential in order to support CNS. How will ICAO contribute in the future to the coordination of regional authorities?

ICAO has a four-step plan to deliver global interoperability, and each step brings regional authorities into the development and decision-making elements of ICAO’s programme.

Step one was to bring the standardmaking bodies together to form a Standards Organisation Round Table. EUROCAE, EUROCONTROL, the SESAR Joint Undertaking, EASA and the European Commission are all members of this Round Table, and actively participate in establishing the working agreements with standards organisations on which work programmes
have priority.

Step two is to define global system upgrades for interoperability purposes that are independent of when and where specific ATM improvement progammes are introduced.

Step three requires access to the right information. As part of this, ICAO will be hosting a Integrated Systems Symposium which will give our industry a critical voice in deliberations, and again our European partners will be playing a significant role in reviewing the individual Regional Plans (Next- Gen and SESAR in this case), developing the gap analysis, and, in the near future, agreeing on common areas for block upgrades, which will need to include the operational improvement intended, the technology required (on the ground and in the air), the procedures for all of the components (operational and technological), the regulatory approval plan, and the business case and/or mandate plan (if required) to achieve results in terms of infrastructure standards and requirements.         

Finally, step four will be to deliver a new Global Air Navigation Plan at the 12th Air Navigation Conference in November 2012, presenting three specific planning elements for tomorrow’s aviation system:

  • a series of operational improvements (block upgrades) and identification identification of the work programmes and implementation efforts required for their implementation;
  • an Avionics Roadmap oriented around the block upgrades eventually agreed upon, and an ATC Communication Plan;
  • an electronic regional Air Navigation Planning facility providing transparent, real-time regional planning capability.
How should organisations such as EUROCONTROL and the FAA contribute to the ensuring of global interoperability?

There are three areas of engagement in which the contribution of organisations such as EUROCONTROL and the FAA is essential to the desired global interoperability outcomes. These areas are information, expertise and funding. Information is required so that global developments are synchronised with regional developments, particularly where those regional developments are leading world practices.

Expertise in the form of panel membership, standard-making body support and the meeting of engagements in terms of hardware and procedures design; and expertise for educational purposes, for workshops and symposia through which we can bring some of the identified best practices to the rest of our global system at a reasonable cost.

The last area is financial support. ICAO does not receive sufficient budget from Contracting States to resource all of the projects which are needed to achieve all of our global interoperability targets. The 37th General Assembly has just approved a Voluntary Safety (SAFE) Fund, through which donors can provide resources in terms of funding or expertise tied to a particular project, and we see this as an ideal mechanism allowing EUROCONTROL and the FAA to ring-fence funding for projects which are of particular relevance to their needs but which also have an application in terms of global interoperability.

How is ICAO’s approach to CNS evolving? How do you see the future CNS infrastructure evolving?

There has been a strategic change in ICAO’s approach since the start of my tenure here at the Air Navigation Bureau. I am transitioning all of our CNS requirements from a model founded on technology-based capability to one predicated on outcome-based performance needs. It will take time and we are concentrating on future needs for the moment, but, following the 12th Air Navigation Conference, I will be looking to reverse-engineer all of our current Annex 10 Standards to fit the new model.

This is driven by my belief that future CNS infrastructure needs are evolving from a technological capability model to an operational requirement model catering for the huge variety of operations in our global system. We don’t want to be the roadblock obstructing any proposed international civil operation bringing safety and/or efficiency benefits.

As ICAO moves forward with a performance-based approach, it will be looking to the standard-making bodies to agree on technical specifications and standards allowing systems to be designed, implemented and maintained in compliance with the stated level of air navigation system performance.

What will be the main challenges ahead?

In terms of CNS infrastructure, we have a number of significant challenges to meet over the next couple of years.

Our immediate concern is to obtain agreement on the first of the block upgrades which will support the aviation community for the future, and to ensure that there is a business case to support them.

The early block upgrades are probably ready to identify themselves, and in many cases there is plenty of evidence to support the business case for industry. As we look further ahead into the various ATM improvement programmes, however, the individual elements which should be brought together to form block upgrades are less clear, and in some cases we are still missing the results of operational trials, which we need in order to substantiate the packages.

Agreement on an ATC Communication Plan for the future will also present us with a real challenge. Both the navigation and the surveillance elements have largely been identified, and a global consensus is achievable, but we still have much work ahead of us to reach agreement on an ATC Communication Plan, so this will be one of the primary work efforts leading up to the 12th Air Navigation Conference.

Finally, the frequency spectrum ranges which we keep protected for aviation safety purposes are under continuous threat from more lucrative uses. ICAO has a policy and a plan leading up to WRC-12, and we have already begun working on strategies for ICAO’s position leading up to WRC-15. There is a need to find spectrum for remotely piloted aircraft and future innovations, to make more efficient use of the spectrum we currently have allocated to us, and to have a strategic plan for the release of spectrum as we phase out some of the older technology.

What are likely to be the most important aspects of the 12th Air Navigation Conference in 2012, and what are ICAO’s expectations?

First, to provide some background, ICAO has been working to create the mechanisms to achieve an integrated global ATM system through the implementation of air navigation systems in a progressive, cost-effective and cooperative manner.

As the formulation of performance-based regional, sub-regional, national, industry and user plans for air navigation systems gains maturity, ICAO continues to address the challenge of the integration, interoperability and harmonisation of the systems leading to the concept of One Sky. The notion of the One Sky concept would be conceived globally, the plans would be developed regionally and the infrastructure would be implemented locally.

The One Sky initiative, while enabling ATM to cope with future air transport demand, would also support the restructuring of airspace and the provision of air navigation facilities and services on the basis of traffic flows rather than national borders, the increase of overall capacity and efficiency, and the improvement of safety, while also contributing positively to the environment.

The One Sky high-level global architecture should enable the digital environment, integrate aerodromes (gate-to-gate strategies), facilitate trajectory-based ATM and support performance-based CNS systems.

Finally, the Conference will provide an opportunity to work together within and outside ICAO towards the establishment of a strategy for air navigation planning and implementation, based on the work accomplished over the past twenty years, during the twoyear build-up to the conference and during the follow-up.

It would provide the venue and impetus to set priorities, coalesce around major themes, obtain agreement from the global aviation community on a 10- year agenda for air navigation planning and implementation, organise and rationalise work programmes before and after the Conference and drive them towards finalisation, provide a stimulus to air navigation activity and implementation, and give States the legal framework for funding and developing work programmes and more.