A Conversation about A-CDM with Ian Pauls, an ATC and Flight Planning Expert

By Jean Luc Devisscher
21th April, 2021

We had a chat with Ian Pauls, an expert in air traffic control (ATC) and flight planning. Ian was the author of the 2018 IATA report titled ‘Airport – Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM): IATA Recommendations’ and we had the pleasure to talk to him about how A-CDM fits in this (hopefully soon) post-COVID era.

The report your collaborated on mentions that there are certain conditions when A-CDM implementation should be considered. One of these conditions is the "poor recovery of airport after disruption". Given the massive disruption caused by COVID-19, how important has it become for airports to implement A-CDM?

Ian Pauls: To be very frank, A-CDM makes the most sense when airports are at capacity and need to find solutions to manage more traffic with the same capacity. A-CDM is a one stop shop. It gives a clear view on what is happening via a set of different scenarios. Currently, A-CDM makes less sense as most airports are far from being at the pre-COVID capacity level and post-COVID, the buildup of traffic will be incremental. A-CDM shows its best value, beauty and full effect when the airports are at capacity. During the buildup of traffic, A-CDM is of less use; resources are less stressed and the arrivals & departures can be fully managed by the ANSP/ATC, less so by A-CDM. With this said, we need to be clear that the current situation is a perfect opportunity to implement A-CDM, if not already done, as schedules will increase, hopefully gradually, so you can incrementally improve the finesse of your system without the risk of huge disruption to a full schedule.

All stakeholders now have now more time to agree upon what they want to measure (agree on the protocols, people, processes, etc.) and have more time, as mentioned, to test the system during low capacity and test it all along as traffic goes up. Hence, the timing, in some respects, is ideal to implement A-CDM as we now have the unique opportunity to test the processes and change them as we go along. We should now really profit from the time we get till airports reach capacity again. The biggest piece of work lies in reviewing step-by-step the behavior of all stakeholders; we need a lot of time to explain to all those impacted by the A-CDM implementation the benefits of having standardized and transparent processes. The platform comes next but at the start, it’s all about people & processes and defining the right concept.

Given the expected recovery of passenger traffic and then its rise (hopefully) above pre-COVID levels in the coming years, what do you expect would happen to airports that do not implement A-CDM?

Ian Pauls: EUROCONTROL has a roadmap of the airports that need to come online with A-CDM. In the EUROCONTROL setup, you need a critical mass of airports that move to A-CDM. If you are not a part of that network, you will be less efficient than airports that have adopted the solution. This goes as far as having an impact on the way we manage airspace. All airports need to be connected, even the smaller ones, to create the efficiency that EUROCONTROL is after.

A-CDM is not a European airport thing. All other regions should get prepared to adopt a similar solution to interact with the European airports. Other regions will face similar issues as the European region was faced with which means that they need to consider a similar setup and not only when interconnecting with any of the European networks. A-CDM is an enabler to manage a network at a more granular level; all regions will need to adopt a similar setup to manage the expected growth of air traffic by at least 100% by 2032 and beyond. You cannot continue to operate & grow without having a more unified approach with the other networks and A-CDM will be a key enabler to allow for that.

The richness of data is a key benefit that A-CDM brings in; it connects the data on all ground movements to what is happening in the airspace and contributes significantly to a better way to manage traffic overall.

Is there a need for the A-CDM implementation to be specifically tailored to each airport? Can a standard, one-size-fits-all solution be effective as an A-CDM platform?

Ian Pauls: There are basic principles to be applied across the A-CDM world, just think of the pilot perspective, but every airport has its own nuances when it comes to ground handling or other specific setups. The overall system will remain the same with some smaller changes to be taken into consideration, the specificities of the airport. Overall, the A-CDM key milestones and setup will remain uniform.

A lot of stakeholders are split over the question to invest. Some cut down, as much as possible, all investments for all possible solutions and go for a ‘no cost’ approach and on the other hand, you see several stakeholders seeing this as an ideal time to implement solutions like A-CDM that have substantial benefits on efficiency gains (and thus, decrease costs) and on sustainability targets as imposed by CORSIA. What is your opinion about the stakeholders who are still hesitant to make the move?

Ian Pauls: The benefit of defined processes and the platforms that manage A-CDM is that they bring clarity to the overall operational processes in terms of real-time data and forecast data which allows for better decision-making and how these processes interact. Taking the next level of A-CDM and having a total airport system allows you to have a clear view on your operation and potentially, your predicted operation; therefore, operational changes can be made to mitigate against delay and disruption in advance. It’s a cliché but bad information/data in means bad planning and good information/data in means good planning, not only at an airport level, especially in those more challenging operational environments, but also at a network level where, in a constrained network, you are trying to squeeze out as much performance as practically possible.

Having a clear view on all stakeholders, their performance and the main processes gives transparency to airport operations and will assist you in a more informed decision-making process that is not in a silo but, as a community, which overall will be the best for the airport and ultimately, the airline, means we can create different scenarios to see how we can manage substantial disturbances more easily and get back to normal faster. Having this full view on all potential scenarios and being able to shift things around very fast is one of the biggest benefits we see from A-CDM, e.g., we can play around with scenarios and select the one that has the least impact on airport operations or can lead to the fastest recovery. In light of what is currently happening and the potential recovery scenario, we have a clear understanding of the roles of all key stakeholders; being clear about these roles and how they work together also results in the automation of many tasks. Automation means a clear need for less resources while managing the same workload.

To be honest, in some cases, A-CDM benefits are not as logical as they seem. This is the case for Heathrow pre-COVID, e.g., Heathrow can save fuel and CO2 emissions through taxi time reduction but this is not really the case as you have much longer holding times where you consume a lot of fuel. Better data on when airplanes can take off or land will offer big advantages. London Heathrow - like other airports- has a very efficient TSAT generator so the aircraft sequence is optimized and the airborne times can be used to manage airspace better as it is more accurate and dynamic data.

Can the implementation of a solid A-CDM setup (concept & platform) lead to a decrease (or delay) in structural investments like terminal extensions and the creation of extra stands?

Ian Pauls: A-CDM data has many uses and it is a data set that airlines and airports never had so it can be key in more automation and a higher fidelity in ground operations, in particular, GMC, stand planning and taxi times to take-off and to on-blocks. I’m not sure if this will ever be the case but you could use this data to almost fully automate GMC (if you get regulatory approval) if you used the ‘follow the greens’ system. I think this is a long way off and most ATC units at airports do a pretty amazing job getting the aircraft onto stand or leaping off the runway in the least possible time and all with the utmost safety! The TSAT data is a value that airlines and airports have never had, therefore, in terms of planning and real-time management of resources and infrastructure, it has made great improvements and, in the future, could support further automation generally; it certainly would and could be used in virtual towers as this technology improves and develops.