Seamless Asian Sky

IATA helps shape the Seamless Asian Sky initiative, which, to be truly effective, must not only fit in with but complement SESAR and NextGen programs, to the anticipated benefit of global air travel.

Economic activity in the Asia/Pacific region — led by the exploding economies of China and India, and further augmented by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and numerous others — demands transportation infrastructure to match its jumbo-sized geography as well as global significance.

In an approach to keep pace with Europe‘s SESAR and the United States‘ NextGen projects, the process is currently underway to bring the exciting future of Asian air travel into clearer focus through a Seamless Asian Sky initiative.

In its infancy, the Seamless Asian Sky initiative is rapidly taking shape. It is essential to Asia/Pacific transportation entities including:

  • The Asia/Pacific Air Navigation Planning & Implementation Regional Group (APANPIRG),
  • The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO),
  • Seamless ATM Planning Group,
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Transportation Working Group.

Good reasons for fast-tracking Seamless Asian Sky are many.

“There are some 40 states [nations] providing air-navigation service in Asia/Pacific — each using different equipment and at different levels of automation,” said Ken McLean, IATA‘s Asia/Pacific regional director of safety operations and infrastructure.

“Some of these states are already using modern systems and can provide more-efficient services, while there are some states that are not making full use of the technology on board aircraft for efficient air-traffic management. The result is fragmented air-navigation service across the region.”

The problem with disparate systems is that efficiencies that could save airlines considerable expenditures on fuel, as well as numerous improvements in relation to environmental factors, are not fully achievable unless air-traffic management is harmonized across the region.

In addition, fuel costs, although they continually fluctuate, always represent significant financial outlays.

“In 2002, fuel accounted for 13 percent of costs,” said McLean. “This year, we expect fuel to account for 33 percent of costs, with a US$207 billion fuel bill. Having efficient air-traffic management can reduce fuel consumption.

“And this would be in line with the industry‘s commitment to reduce our carbon footprint by improving fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent to 2020, cap net emissions from 2020 and cut net emissions in half by 2050 compared to 2005.”

These goals are definitely not being pursued in a vacuum. The Seamless Asian Sky initiative is closely related to the overall objective of greatly increasing efficiency and helping substantially advance overall environmental factors.

“We have a four-pillar strategy to help us achieve this: technology, efficient operations and infrastructure, and positive economic measures,” McLean said. “A Seamless Asian Sky would be part of our ’infrastructure‘ pillar. And looking forward, by 2015, 37 percent of all passengers will travel on routes to, from or within Asia/Pacific, compared to 29 percent for Europe and North America.

Solving Fragmented Air-navigation Service

In Asia/Pacific, approximately 40 nations provide air-navigation service. They all use different equipment with varying levels of automation. The Seamless Asian Sky aims to solve the problem of fragmented air-navigation service across the region.

“Of the 877 million additional people who are expected to travel in 2015 compared to 2010, more than 212 million will be on journeys within or connected with China. So nearly a quarter of the growth in the global aviation industry is expected to be associated with China.”

In particular, McLean said the Seamless Asian Sky initiative lines up with the priorities of ASEAN‘s Transportation Working Group to try to develop the Asia/Pacific region into something closely approaching a contiguous air-transportation entity.

“The success of ASEAN‘s plans for a single aviation market — and the consequential growth — will rely on more-efficient air-traffic infrastructure to handle the additional flights,” McLean said, again referring to the predictions of vastly increased Asia/Pacific air traffic in the very near future.

Even though a number of organizations are working toward global improvements in air-traffic control and management, there remain various contrasts as well as parallels among the major regions.

“The Single European Sky initiative groups the current 39 service providers into larger ’functional airspace blocks‘ within which air-traffic services will be provided,” said McLean. “It is easier to align nine functional airspace blocks than 39 different service providers.

“And a major challenge is to get states to allocate responsibility for their airspace to other states. NextGen, being the future ATM environment for the United States, doesn‘t have issues associated with multiple states [nations] being involved, but the technical issues are similar.

“Both NextGen and SESAR will continue to provide global leadership of the technical issues from which Seamless Asian Sky will benefit.”

There are many working parts involved. But from all the planning and implementation, much more-efficient airspace management will emerge worldwide.

“The Seamless Asian Sky will retain the current 40 air-navigation service providers,” McLean said. “Instead of redrawing boundary lines, the project will focus on standardizing regulation, harmonizing procedures and interoperable technology among states, creating ’virtual‘ boundaries while making better use of the aircraft technology, and ability to fly on predictable flight paths.

“Technology improvements from SESAR and NextGen will be incorporated in the Seamless Asian Sky. Global harmonization is vital to ensure the best use of the same aircraft capability in all parts of the globe.”

The improvement initiatives have quite a bit in common, at the very least, with regard to the intense levels of meticulous planning that have established their conceptual underpinnings.

Modern Aircraft Technology

Maximizing the use of modern aircraft technology, such as ADS-B (satellite position) and potentially electronic flight bags, to derive greater efficiencies, plays a critical role in the success of the Seamless Asian Sky initiative.

And advancements in each region will most certainly benefit — and be adoptable by — the others.

“ICAO has a global harmonization ’roadmap‘ to ensure that both SESAR and NextGen are integrated with the regional plans,” said McLean. “A primary focus of this roadmap is to maximize the technology currently available on aircraft.

“There is considerable effort to ensure that NextGen and SESAR are harmonized with the Seamless Asian Sky through the ICAO work groups.”

Working on a timeline to get all major advances in air-traffic management up and operating as soon as possible, progress is now moving forward in each region with the fundamental attitude that substantial improvements are well overdue.

This is especially true of the quickly developing concepts behind Seamless Asian Sky.

“The intention is to have a regional implementation roadmap approved by Asia/Pacific states by mid-2013,” McLean said. “The objective is to harmonize implementation schedules with other major global plans such as NextGen and SESAR.”

Yet — as always — progress can only occur in the context of the tenacity and drive to overcome obstacles great and small.

“There are two main challenges: the ability of states to adhere to the implementation roadmap after it has been agreed upon, and funding to enable the implementation,” said McLean. “The biggest challenge will be funding, particularly developing states.

“Alternative funding mechanisms will need to be explored.”

That funding challenge, as with the funding of projects in the midst of financial flux across the globe, will not necessarily be an easy puzzle to solve.

Nonetheless, Asia/Pacific governments as well as the region‘s airlines are anxious for Seamless Asian Sky to become reality.

“Airlines are very much a part of the Seamless Asian Sky project and have been supportive of the initiative,” McLean said. “IATA has been in constant contact with our member airlines on how to improve the efficiency of the airspace in Asia, including the Seamless Asian Sky project.

“And Asia/Pacific states have expressed support for the Seamless Asian Sky. In fact, a number of key states are actively involved in developing the plans.”

Airlines with extensive Asia/Pacific operations, quite obviously, figure to benefit most from Seamless Asian Sky development and implementation. But the benefits will accumulate for everyone in air transportation and be felt in every area of concern throughout the region.

“The Seamless Asian Sky will have an environmental and cost impact,” said McLean. “More-efficient flights would translate into burning less fuel, which would reduce CO2 emissions.

“With fuel accounting for one-third of expenses compared to 13 percent a decade ago, every saving matters.”

And the advances in technology — those that will be realized when Seamless Asian Sky becomes operative and those further technological advances to come — will also carry major impact.

“Technology will be critical for the success of the Seamless Asian Sky, specifically maximizing the use of the technology currently available on board the aircraft to derive greater efficiencies,” McLean said. “The regional implementation plan is currently being developed for future discussion later this year — for finalization in 2013.

“In 10 years, I hope we will be en route to implementing the plan that will be finalized next year, with the necessary agreements in place to implement major improvements in flight paths across Asia/Pacific and with other regions.”

Carriers as well as the Asia/Pacific nations are eager to start banking the anticipated tangible fruits of Seamless Asian Sky, which, in company with the benefits expected to result from implementation of SESAR and NextGen, will have critical global significance in charting positive evolution in air transportation.

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