Written by: James Hanson
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Airspace Guardian of the Future

Today's ANSPs guard our airspace, protecting both those who fly in it and those who sit beneath it. But how it's done today will not be how it's done tomorrow.

Franklin rightly said: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail". But how do you prepare when the future is so VUCA "volatile uncertain complex and ambiguous"? The answer is scenario planning. I recently led an exercise exploring long-term future scenarios for aviation and how ANSPs would need to evolve to remain relevant within them.

We began with horizon scanning workshops to identify major trends and drivers for change. However, this was not straightforward. Many drivers sit under multiple headings, each influencing the other. Governmental stability and geopolitical stability both impact on propensity for air travel. And societal habits in travel are likely to be influenced by trade policy, taxation, or environmental policy.

Impact and uncertainty

The next stage was to determine which drivers would have the greatest impact on aviation, particularly ATM; and which was the most uncertain, or unpredictable. After a robust debate we settled on two:

1. Attitudes to protecting the environment – curtailed versus expanded aviation

2. Market liberalisation – open versus closed

These drivers became the two axes on which our four scenarios were built:

Four scenarios, common themes

Each scenario created a different world view. Within each scenario we considered the impact on the market, the customer and the supplier – including ANSPs. Common themes emerged:

1. Competition: Data companies and other new entrants will challenge or displace traditional ANSPs (and possibly airlines). The lines between ATM and airport operations will blur, with ANSPs expanding into aspects of airport operations, and airport operators seeking more control of ANS.

2. Data complexity and opportunity: ATM challenges will increasingly rely on complex data with more variables and datapoints. Those best able to exploit data are likely to hold the most power.

3. Infrastructure: This will become increasingly remote to the service: virtualised, cloud-hosted or space-based.

4. New business models and partnerships: As aviation becomes an integrated part of a multi-modal transport system with a digital backbone, new opportunities and mergers will arise.

5. Airspace reform: Change will be more essential but increasingly difficult as new users and more airspace (eg outer space) come into the picture.

6. Environment: Pressures to reduce the environmental impact of aviation will increase.

7. Liability and responsibility: Evolving structures, policies, technologies and partnerships will require us to re-examine where the buck stops when it comes to delivering safety-of-life services.

We then imagined what high-level changes would be needed to survive and even thrive in such a world. But the devil is in the detail - individual organisations will have their own ambitions and constraints which will yield different results. Nevertheless, organisational agility, ie the ability to respond to changing circumstances will be an important success factor.

I encourage today's airspace guardians and those looking for a future role to read the full Paper and consider how well prepared they are for the possible futures that could materialise. Securing a long-term and prosperous position in a VUCA world requires a plan and to echo the wise words of George S Patton: "a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

WANTED: Airspace Guardian of the Future can be downloaded free at: https://fr.calameo.com/read/0040249108fbd3d64896e

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