Currently, operational procedures on runways, taxiways and aprons depend on pilots, air traffic controllers (ATCOs), and vehicle drivers, who rely on visual aids (lighting, signage, and markings) to estimate their respective relative positions and avoid the risk of collision. To cope with the continuous growth in air traffic, it is essential to improve the efficiency and safety of ground operations at airports. A-SMGCS (Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System) is a concept developed by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) which encompasses the introduction of new technologies and new operational procedures to improve the efficiency of ground operations at airports. The European Commission Transport Directorate has been actively encouraging A-SMGCS developments through a number of projects, and new procedures using A-SMGCS technologies are being developed.
The ATOPS main objectives were:
- to identify, with the help of end-users and service providers, operational procedures using A-SMGCS that are expected to enhance the efficiency and capacity of airport ground movements in a safe manner;
- to conduct simulation tests using the SAMS (SMGCS Airport Movement Simulator) platform to enable pilots and controllers to evaluate the chosen procedures and record performance data.
Through the use of comprehensive questionnaires and interviews with Air Traffic Control authorities in four main European airports (Heathrow, Charles De Gaulle, Schiphol, Frankfurt), the ATOPS project has identified the airports' present SMGCS, future planned A-SMGCS, perceived business benefits of A-SMGCS and possible operational procedure topics for A-SMGCS (distinguishing basic or core procedures from advanced procedures). This provides a detailed overview of current practice and future trends as far as ground movements are concerned.
A number of selected procedures have been tested at Heathrow and Schiphol using the SAMS real-time, man-in-the-loop simulation platform, linking together a cockpit simulator, control tower simulator and a core A-SMGCS simulator. Because the SAMS platform encountered technical difficulties and could not be completed, only core procedures have been addressed during the ATOPS simulation. General feedback from the ATCOs who participated in the simulations indicated that A-SMGCS is extremely helpful in supporting the ATCOs in the tasks of identifying and guiding traffic on the airport surface. Although no quantitative data have been collected, A-SMGCS appears to improve the amount of traffic that can be moved in low-visibility conditions. The observed reduction in radio/telephony communications has indicated that ATCO workload decreases.
The ATOPS project proved that the implementation of a labelled A-SMGCS display in a control tower provides a better understanding of the traffic situation on the airport surface and consequently increases the efficiency and safety of ground movements, especially in medium- and low-visibility conditions. The main benefits accrue to:
- airport owners and managers, thanks to an increased number of movements (i.e. aircraft) handled on the airport surface,
- passengers, thanks to reduced delays and increased safety,
- ATCOs and pilots, thanks to a reduced workload.
Further work is required to:
- optimise function and format of the Controller and Pilot HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) to provide a useable interface for these end-users to the A-SMGCS;
- develop Conflict Detection and Alert systems;
- investigate advanced procedures and end-users' interaction with advanced A-SMGCS tools for Routing Guidance and Control functions;
- test A-SMGCS and associated new procedures in simulation.