Leading Innovation in Europe

Since the early 2000s, the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre (EEC) has been a key partner in a large number of innovative projects funded by the European Commission. The innovative research made a number of major contributions to current air traffic management practice.

Colin Meckiff remembers it well. Before being a major player in SESAR* (a research programme which will create a harmonised air traffic control system in Europe), the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre (EEC) conducted large amounts of collaborative research at European level. “These studies involved dozens of partners from numerous countries, and required investments of tens of millions of euros,” stresses the EEC Head of Exploratory Research Unit.

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Reference in Europe

Even if SESAR was not yet on the agenda at that time, complementary programmes such as C-ATM** and Episode 3*** paved the way for it. C-ATM formed the cornerstone of SESAR and was based on the idea of 4-dimensional aircraft flight paths allowing precise predictions of where and when they were flying. This idea was further investigated by Episode 3, the objective of which was to determine the best practices for validating new concepts applicable to air traffic control. According to an enthusiastic Colin Meckiff, “the validation methods developed still serve as a reference in Europe and beyond.”

The EEC was at the head of many other innovative and visionary air traffic management initiatives, such as the Gate-to-Gate project. “A flight consists of a complex succession of operations. If information is not properly communicated between each one this leads to substantial inefficiencies and unpredictability.” Gate-to-Gate was one of the first attempts to consider a flight as a single entity from departure to arrival, and through this work the EEC and its partners contributed to a major step forward in traffic management.

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Foundations for the future

The research carried out by the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre has developed air traffic control practices that make a difference in the short term, but it has also given us a glimpse of the future, with projects such as Mediterranean Free Flight. This project studied more radical changes with delegation of some air traffic management roles to aircraft pilots. “This study was before its time, but our work has laid foundations for the future.”

* SESAR: Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research

** C-ATM: Cooperative Air Traffic Management

*** Episode 3: Episode 3 explored key aspects of the C-ATM concept to provide advice on research methodologies appropriate for SESAR, some high level assessment of expected benefits, and to highlight areas of the concept where more research was needed to establish feasibility and performance improvements