The pathway to integrated skies

To continue pushing the limits of innovative thinking, a panel of industry experts at the CANSO Executive Summit discussed the needs of future airspace users.

The panel:

  • Wille Walsh, Director General, IATA
  • Dr Giorgio Cioni, Director of Armament and Airspace Capabilities, Division of Defence Investment, NATO
  • Akbar Sultan, Director, Airspace Operations and Safety Program, NASA Aeronautics Research Directorate
  • Benjamin Binet, Vice President, Strategy and Technology, Thales
  • Earl Lawrence, Chief Compliance and Quality Officer, Xwing
  • Moderator: Simon Hocquard, Director General, CANSO

The debate ranged across a variety of topics but stressed that the new normal must be different. Drones need to be integrated into civil airspace in a transparent manner, civil-military cooperation must be flexible and regulations must keep pace with innovative developments.

NATO’s Giorgio Cioni highlighted the changing needs of airspace users. New military aircraft are increasingly flying beyond normal parameters requiring larger volumes of airspace to be closed when these aircraft are operating. NASA and Xwing picked up on this, noting that space launches also require significant closures to commercial traffic and there are ever more drones at low levels.

Performance profiles will therefore be diverse and there will be millions of operations a day in any given airspace rather than tens of thousands.

New technologies will help airspace structures become more dynamic but automation will be crucial. Simply, the complexity will be beyond human management. Trust is also a key component in managing risk and as collaboration increases, so too will trust.

IATA DG, Willie Walsh, stressed that modern aircraft are more than capable of handling any new requirements. “At the moment, we are operating [aircraft] like we did back in the 1960s,” he said. “We want to operate aircraft in the way they were designed to operate.”

NASA’s Akbar Sultan suggested a framework for deliberating on new processes and technologies. Safety, efficiency or user preference are typical end goals, but the challenge is to embrace all three simultaneously rather than let one aspect dominate, he said.

Sustainability is another major factor going forward and all panellists were keen to point out this extended beyond reducing carbon. Financial sustainability is equally important as there won’t be a viable industry otherwise. Benjamin Binet from Thales suggested that the usual investment cycle – paying large sums for new systems every ten years or so – might be abandoned in favour of buying these systems as a service.

Xwing’s Earl Lawrence suggested that earlier engagement in dialogue with all parties would help. And that dialogue must be started effective, constructive and lead to results. Data sharing, another aspect of collaboration, cannot have negative consequences for any party, he said.

During the debate, Walsh made two telling comments that won approval from panellists and audience alike. In reference to regulations adding layers of complexity, he said safety should not be decided by politicians but by people who properly understand risk assessment.

And quoting George Bernard Shaw, he concluded the panel by noting that the unreasonable man tries to adapt the world to his needs while the reasonable man tries to adapt to the world. “Progress is therefore made by unreasonable men”.