“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This famous quote, often attributed to Henry Ford, provocatively demands that we imagine a future that is more than a continuation of the past. The practical challenge we face is how to translate this enduring truth into practice progress. How do we light our way on our uncertain path to the future and harness the right technologies, the right incentives and systems?
At this point in time in the industry, it makes sense to question some of our basic assumptions about how the aviation sector as a whole, and specifically air traffic management (ATM), needs to progress. If today we were to design ATM and IT solutions from scratch, would air traffic controllers have a different role than today? Would the system still be based on sectors? Would the variety of specific functions and interfaces to other ecosystems be the same?
Whatever the answer to these questions is, we have a system that has emerged and grown, with complex variances and strict regulations. We have to focus on how we can best introduce and use new technologies for our purposes.
Strict regulation and complex legacy systems are a challenge
In pure technology terms, many things would easily be possible. However, introducing new technology into a highly complex and regulated system with many safety needs is a bigger challenge. The existing ATM system has proven to be very safe, even when running at its limit.
We have reached the end of the technological S-Curve model, which describes the life cycle of strategic innovation, and it is time to jump to new technologies, procedures and methods. The ATM system is not designed to “jump”, however, due to the industry’s lengthy procedures, detailed regulations, complex responsibility structures and historical technological interdependencies.