Enabling technologies of Upper Airspace Harmonization
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) the UN specialized agency, established by States in 1944 manages the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention). ICAO works with the Convention’s 191 Member States and industry groups to reach consensus on international civil aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) and policies in support of a safe, efficient, secure, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible civil aviation sector. These SARPS and policies are used by ICAO Member States to ensure that their local civil aviation operations and regulations conform to global norms, which in turn permits more than 100,000 daily flights in aviation’s global network to operate safely and reliably in every region of the world.
In addition to its core work resolving consensus-driven international SARPS and policies among its Member States and industry, and among many other priorities and programmes, ICAO also coordinates assistance and capacity building for States in support of numerous aviation development objectives; produces global plans to coordinate multilateral strategic progress for safety and air navigation; monitors and reports on numerous air transport sector performance metrics; and audits States’ civil aviation oversight capabilities in the areas of safety and security.
Having witnessed tremendous air traffic growth in the last decade and expected consistent growth of over 7% international as well as domestic traffic in the coming years, India has taken major steps in upgrading the air navigation services’ ground infrastructures and airspace restructuring to enhance the safety, capacity and efficiency of airspace and airports. One of the major steps taken by India is “Upper Airspace Harmonization”. Therefore, it is an attempt to provide a general overview on the airspace structure, enabling technologies behind the upper air space harmonization and benefits extended to stakeholders of aviation.
Airspace is divided scientifically into different regions by International Civil Aviation organization [ICAO]. They are divided into multiple Flight Information Regions [FIR]. India has four major FIRS with the control centers at Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. Each one of these FIRS has four layers: Tower, Approach, Lower area control centre [ACC] and Upper area control centre [ACC] with vertical jurisdiction. Each layer will have multiple sectors with lateral jurisdiction.
Any restructuring efforts on civil aviation air space over an individual’s state could be viewed as a part of a global air space plan, as capacity changes at one part of the globe, it certainly influences the movement and capacity at another part of the globe. By restructuring the air space and air routes, saving of fuel and time, reduction in emission, enhancement in safety and increased airline on time performance is being achieved significantly. So, upper airspace harmonization has become very essential.
Two major challenges are addressed in harmonizing the upper airspace to enable the air traffic management of different sectors from one control centre. First challenge is, extending the air situation pictures of different sectors to a single upper airspace control centre. Second, enabling the communication between pilot and controllers; during the entire flight duration within the upper airspace irrespective of the distance between them.
This fused information is further correlated with electronic flight plan information for enhancing the safety nets, which includes short time conflict alert, dangerzone proximity warning and minimum safe altitude warning system etc. This fused data are made available to controllers’ working position as per the requirement along with electronic flight information. In this way, the consolidation and deconsolidation of sectors is made feasible to handle the traffic based on the density of the traffic and human resource availability.
In case of communication between pilots and controllers, very high frequency [VHF] voice communication is widely used because of voice quality. However, the range of VHF is limited to line of sight. Even though High frequency [HF] voice communication can provide better range, it is not preferred over continental airspace due to poor voice quality. Satellite based Controller Pilot Data Link Communication