Harnessing the Power of Voice for Safer Skies

Despite global economic volatility in the form of various socio-political and economic crises, the number of flights to be taken in 2020 is still predicted to rise by 1.2% - a modest increase but an increase regardless. This amounts to millions of additional passengers taking hundreds of thousands more flights, all of it adding to already crowded airspaces around major international airports and posing an even greater challenge to Air Traffic Control operators.

Increasingly, calls are being made by ATC personnel and industry analysts to make greater use of voice-based technology to boost operators’ control of and access to the streams of real-time data that make the difference between smooth flying and delays or even disasters. Accordingly, greater emphasis is being placed on combining voice communication systems (VCS) with automation technology to create an environment where ATC operators have all the information they need directly at their fingertips – or lips, in this instance – to command on a single screen.

Both inside the tower and out, industry experts agree that the merits of taking this approach of fusing VCS and automation are evident and wide-ranging, as they include:

  • Faster collection, correlation and presentation of all relevant information to ATC professionals.
  • Enabling of more convenient assessment and manipulation of said data by operators.
  • Improved situational awareness, leading to faster reaction times and greater overall safety levels in airport operations.
  • Greater overall efficiency of airport operations, particularly in instances of remote and multi-remote towers.
  • Removing data siloes across individual tower systems, integrating them into a single common ICT infrastructure for further efficiency and security gains.

For airports that manage a successful proof of concept trial and then move to adopt this VCS and automation approach, there’s even scope to take it further. Solution providers are already envisaging additional features, such as the ability to enable incoming voice communications to trigger visual alerts on the screen to show the operator which site they relate to. This is being heralded as an elegant and effective way to successfully support a single operator managing multiple remote tower locations at a central location.

This innovative way of bringing ATC operations forward may be coming along at just the right time. Along with rising global flight frequencies, ATC professionals are often being expected to cope with this rising demand using outdated technology that isn’t fit for purpose. According to a June 2019 report from The Economist, the length of delays caused by air-traffic control problems in the US rose by 69% between 2012 and 2017. In China the average delay per domestic flight spiked sharply by 50% in 2017 and remains at an average of 15 minutes per flight. Europe appears to be among the worst suffering regions, as the length of delays due to en route air-traffic-flow problems grew by 105% in 2018. For Europe, this has turned into a $20 billion-per-year problem.

What’s clear is that a drastic rethink and subsequent overhaul of ATC operations is needed across most airports. For those looking to make the most of their operators’ inherent skills while empowering them with the information and instant control they need, VCS and automation provides a promising path ahead.

 

This article was created in association with Global Airport Leaders’ Forum (GALF) taking place alongside ATC Forum and Airport Show on 26-28 October 2020.

Day 1+2 (26 & 27 October) of GALF will feature a dedicated ATC Conference. Read more here.