Many air traffic control (ATC) systems rely on tried and tested technologies, with some technologies, such as Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), having their roots in the 1930s.  Some more recent additions, such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) have changed little since the early 2000s.

In the mid-to-late 2020s, however, the future of ATC is poised for some significant technological transformations, driven by the availability of efficient automation and control systems, and the growing complexity of global air traffic.

Automation And Artificial Intelligence

Many ATC managers have long recognised the potential of automated systems to enhance safety and efficiency and reduce human error. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could revolutionise the sector still further, improving safety by assisting the management of complex traffic patterns and improving decision-making processes in automated systems. AI-empowered automated systems could, in the future, handle tasks such as traffic prediction and anomaly detection, and could even direct traffic operations under certain conditions.

However, there is still a strong recognition of the need for effective human-machine collaboration and safety systems in air traffic control, in which human oversight is crucial. Despite the current hype around AI, the types of ‘General AI’ (or Artificial General Intelligence/AGI) applications required to independently conduct operations of this complexity are still at least 7 to 10 years off, and maybe decades away.

Alongside the growth of AI in ATC, there is a growing focus on human-led control systems, ensuring that air-traffic professionals are equipped with the tools and skills required to oversee and intervene in automated processes when necessary, thereby leveraging the strengths of both human intelligence and machine capabilities.

Collaborative Decision Making (CDM)

CDM represents a shift away from traditional airport-based decision-making processes in ATC towards a more integrated and cooperative approach that allows airlines, airports, and organisations to share data and collaborate more effectively to optimise flight routes, improve performance, and reduce delays. Until recently, many CDM initiatives have been hindered by the available technology. Advances in cloud-based applications, however, now make it easier for ATC stakeholders to share real-time information to facilitate faster and better-informed decisions with fewer constraints and delays.

This has the potential to improve air traffic flow by sharing information about flight plans, local weather conditions, airspace restrictions, and capacity which would improve safety, and strengthen operational coordination between ATC stakeholders. CDM also has long-term strategic benefits by allowing industry stakeholders to guide future developments in aerospace and airport infrastructure to meet the future and current needs of users.

Emerging Air Mobility Operations

The modern ATC landscape is complicated by the emergence of new forms of air transport, including automated drones and the increased use of helicopter traffic by private and healthcare organisations. This is driving the development of new air traffic control systems to manage these new types of aircraft alongside traditional traffic patterns, and could include new protocols and technologies for communication, tracking, and integration of these vehicles into the commercial airspace without compromising efficiency or safety.

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Copperchase are market leading providers of ATC systems and data solutions, serving over 300 airports and communication centres in over 50 countries around the world. To find out more about our services and how we can help, please contact one of our experienced team by clicking here.

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