Some flights to large parts of Europe resumed today after six days of widespread disruption caused by ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland. Following the political intervention of European Union transport ministers late yesterday, restrictions were partially lifted in some countries but there was little or no flying in a core area of northern Europe.
The cloud of volcanic ash continues to move south through the UK and continental Europe as the eruption in Iceland persists.
For the upcoming European football championship, jointly hosted by Switzerland and Austria, the Zurich police department has decided to supplement its crowd control systems using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) supplied and operated by the Swiss air force as observation platforms. Light drones are cheaper to fly than manned aircraft and will free helicopters for other tasks such as carrying personnel.
While the FAA moves forward with its operational evolution plan (OEP) to increase National Airspace System capacity by the end of this decade, a major consideration will be how many aircraft are equipped to take advantage of the resulting improvements in efficiency.
Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is stepping up operating trials aimed at making greater use of both en route and terminal area airspace. New procedures being evaluated include the use of parallel offset tracks in place of radar headings alone; closer spacing of parallel routes with autonomous operations; and the use of precision area navigation (PRnav) procedures for terminal area control.
Eurocontrol is evaluating proposals to introduce new “charging volumes for airspace” in which different ATC fees would apply for using different parts of Europe’s airspace. This would result in operators paying higher rates for using lower flight levels and particularly busy airspace sectors, such as those in southeast England.
Phase One of a proposal by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to improve airspace capacity will require aircraft owners in the UK to upgrade to a Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) Mode-S transponder by March 31, 2012. In addition, all new installations of SSR transponders must be Mode-S compliant beyond March 31 next year.
Europe’s controlled airspace is to be expanded to absorb air transport growth, leaving the general aviation community with the prospect of paying air traffic management fees and having to adjust to a more complex operating environment.
Balancing available technology with the inevitable shifts in what governments will spend to achieve incremental gains, it’s tough to say what the air traffic management (ATM) environment of tomorrow will look like. Weren’t we all supposed to be living in a Free Flight utopia by now?
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