The rapid growth in air traffic is leading to congested airspace and airports. The high level of safety currently achieved is in danger of becoming insufficient due to the difficulties in traffic management and the psychological impact of an increased number of full losses.
Automation of airborne tasks has been a major factor in increasing flight reliability and safety. One of the main innovations for aircraft was the introduction of fly-by-wire controls. Statistics show that accidents rates are cut by half in more highly automated aircraft and it is generally accepted that aircraft automation will become more and more sophisticated. Some actions still have not been included in on-board flight management software but there is no particular difficulty to their insertion.
On the contrary, Air Traffic Management has been less automated; electronics aids to controllers are permanently being developed and introduced but the controller still has the last word. ATM automation, whether in en-route phases, approach or climb, raises many more problems than aircraft automation, especially in the airspace where traffic is congested and flight parameters constantly changing.
The objective of this Specific Support Action was to assemble people acting in aircraft operational exploitation: air operators, companies and pilots, ATM organisations, aircraft and systems manufacturers, passenger and cabin crew organisations, psychologists, aviation authorities, IATA, European Commission. The conference was organized by the Académie Nationale de l'Air et de l'Espace in October 2005 in Toulouse.
A colloquium at international level (including US participation) was the most effective way to encourage exchanges on this subject so as to reach a better understanding of the goals to be reached. The expected exchanges of prospective ideas could lead either to a cycle of conferences or a thematic network on the issue or both. The evolution in systems automation in the past fifty years stemmed from a growing demand and the twin ambitions of maintaining the safety rate whilst improving performance.
It was essential to persuade European leaders of the benefits of automation for increasing efficiency of air transportation. At the same time it was important that any evolution in the system take into account all the different parameters. The colloquium set out to address the various issues raised.
The AAA project first goal was to gather together leading players from the various fields of international aircraft operations:
- airlines and pilots, ATM organisations, aircraft and systems manufacturers, passenger and cabin crew;
- organisations, psychologists, aviation authorities, IATA, European Commission.
Its second goal was to encourage a pooling of information at the highest level on current automation initiatives.
Its third goal was to encourage an exchange of views on fixture automation projects within a time-scale of twenty years in an effort to promote harmonious development of automated systems.
The colloquium proceedings, which were sent to all participants and interested parties, circulated the information as widely as possible. A booklet containing a résumé of discussions and conclusions and a number of recommendations for the attention of the relevant authorities also was published and disseminated.
ANAE carried out the general management of the project and was the interface between the European Commission and the partnership, for both managerial and scientific / technical aspects.
Two committees were set up:
- a programme committee, an international group in charge of defining subjects to be treated, of contacting specialists for lectures and / or round tables. Bernard Ziegler, former vice-president of Airbus, member of ANAE, was president of the programme committee;
- a steering committee, a national group which chose the conference site, organised the conference schedule, managed the mailing and the diffusion of the announcements and took charge of finances. The steering committee met roughly once a month during the project duration. The coordinator acted as chairman of the steering group, with the responsibility of carrying out correct procedures and meeting all deadlines and obligations.
The colloquium's ambitions to gather together an international pool of experts so as to set up an exchange of views fully succeeded: speakers were of a very high calibre, from all the main European and American organisations, industries and institutions. All expressed their satisfaction at the unfolding of the colloquium and at the quality of discussions that had taken place. Attendance was also high (more than 200 participants) thanks to a sustained publicity campaign involving press releases, mail shots, direct contacts, etc.
The current safety level is close to 10-7/h which translates as a fatal accident every 4 weeks on average. If air traffic doubles (as is envisaged towards 2014-20l8) and under the optimistic hypothesis that the rate of collisions will grow linearly, there will be a fatal accident every two weeks, and by 2025-2030, one every week. Although passengers will still benefit from the same safety level in real terms, the psychological impact projected by the media would be unacceptable. It is therefore imperative to progress to a probability of fatal accident of 10-8/h, and this constraint must be factored into the future design of automated systems for aircraft and ATM.
It was decided that two relatively independent approaches were to be pursued:
- The first approach would be a systematic study of the evolution in aircraft and ATM automation in order to satisfy safety constraints within the current framework of air transportation. The incidence of each new stage of automation on potential total automation in the future would have to be assessed, but studies during this first stage would not be motivated by the notion of total automation. This theme would also have to take into account the rapid development of UAVs which pose some major problems directly linked to safety when they move out of reserved flight envelopes. An initial overview of military UAVs could rapidly be drawn up but the evolution of technologies used by UAVs and forecasts for future development would have to be constantly monitored, particularly since UAVs will undoubtedly soon be used in the civil domain, for freight transportation for instance. A hierarchy of systems to be automated would have to be elaborated.
- The second approach would immediately be orientated towards total automation of the air transportation system. An initial subject might deal with the optimal structure for a UAV, first for freight transport, then for passengers, based on currently existing UAVs or those in design