Up In The Air Blog
Restart & Resilience of Air Navigation Services post COVID-19
19 August 2020

The Digital Shock Absorber

Volume II - In collaboration with:

NASA Aeronautics Research Institute

The Need for Resilience

Historically, the aviation supply chain has included many absorbers to minimize shock and disruption; from safety barriers to global standards, to principles for managing and responding to all types of contingencies. The aviation supply chain has a track record of ensuring that operations are efficient, while providing value, and satisfaction to end users: the flying public and cargo shippers. Unfortunately, the impacts of climate change as well as humans living in closer proximity to animal habitats means that global disruptions such as COVID-19 could become more common. Therefore, ensuring aviation’s resilience in the face of potential future catastrophes should be a priority in the risk assessment models for the aviation supply chain.

Resilience through Digitization

The ‘new normal’ created by COVID-19 is challenging some of the assumptions regarding how many functions of the supply chain are carried out. One of these assumptions is around forecast accuracy. Traffic forecasts are an essential factor on which the planning of airlines, airports, ANSPs, aircraft manufacturers are based. It could be argued that information and timely sharing applications can be the biggest buffer in supply chains. Big data analytics that can enable better prediction of disruptions will transform risk management and planning for future crises. With the data and connectivity we have today, we can identify and help manage future disruption trends, e.g., future trends in natural disasters, pandemics, etc. This will help us better anticipate and plan for major disruptions.

In the ‘new normal’ environment, new technology trends are likely. Remote and virtual training tools and capabilities could become a permanent part of training of skilled aviation professionals. Within that context, exploring tools such as combinations of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in recurrent training could serve the industry in maintaining competency during and beyond COVID-19. The use of gaming type platforms to prepare and train for certain contingency scenarios could ensure the availability of skills needed to handle contingency situations.

COVID-19 also has increased the urgency to use robotics and unmanned technology because of mobility restrictions and the need for “touchless” processes. The ability to remotely or virtually manage passenger processing, traffic, baggage handling, and as many other operations as possible will increase system resiliency. Demand for remote access to critical assets, whether for security, inspection or disinfection increased because of the pandemic. In some places, drones have been used to expedite the delivery of medical supplies to hospitals and seniors. A more widespread use of robotics and unmanned technology in air transport brings another complexity with it related to the regulatory framework and the potential need for new infrastructure.

Over the past few years, we have seen many examples of remote towers applied across the world. With the technology we have today, countries and regions are able to employ a more proactive use of sovereignty over their airspace, and delegate the responsibility for the provision of air navigation services to another state or third-party provider. Such delegation can be used for managing traffic in contingency scenarios and in case of loss of a facility. Existing remote tower capabilities can be utilized as a back-up during COVID-19 to ensure the availability of teams of Air Traffic controllers (ATCOs) in the case of an affected ATC Tower facility.

Insights & Considerations

  • Assessing where it is feasible to consider new functions and technologies to enable the recovery of the aviation supply chain and enhance its ability to react to change and absorb negative disruptions.
  • Digital twins of systems could support operations by running in parallel to ensure that performance is within acceptable range as compared with historical data as well as system models.
  • Remote technology may help improve connectivity and digital plans to operate as many critical systems as possible.
  • In situations where air navigation services need to be provided by another facility, learning systems that capture critical operational details for humans to accept hand-off will be important.
  • To the extent possible, airspace designs can be generalized, particularly higher altitudes in an en route airspace.
  • To unlock future benefits of innovation and digitization, we must work together and learn from trials and pilot projects so we can re-design the future aviation supply chain into a demand driven digital world where physical service and digital manifestation does not have to be collocated.

Get Involved

If you have any question or would like to share your ideas with us, please send an email to infrastructure@iata.org

Next Publication

Stay tuned for our next Up in the Air publication which will focus on re-calibrating capacity in the new operating environment of COVID-19.

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