Many aircraft are flying over Europe at any given time. Image from / Google Maps.

Many aircraft are flying over Europe at any given time. Image from / Google Maps.

Story written by Steve Fulton, Technical Fellow at GE Aviation and shared on

We are taught from a young age about the importance of working together.

’œThere’s no I in team’ was a common inspirational poster in my children’s classrooms and libraries. This is certainly still relevant to our lives today — in business, it is critical for groups to partner to address a common challenge. This mantra is especially applicable to aviation, as we must work together to make the most out of our increasingly congested skies.

With business and government leaders and even industry enthusiasts gathering in Le Bourget for the Paris Air Show last week, we were reminded of the importance of an efficient airspace system that can accommodate increased demand in interconnected air travel. The international airport that supported the influx of visitors from around the world was Charles de Gaulle Airport, located outside of Paris.  It is Europe’s second busiest airport and in 2011, the year of the previous Paris Air Show, the airport handled 514,059 aircraft movements and 60.97 million passengers.

Whether it’s to manage an increase in traffic to support a major event or to plan for steady global growth, stakeholders working as a team to create an efficient, interconnected sky — and a modern air traffic control system to effectively manage and improve it — will be critical to the success of the future of aviation.

In my last post, I mentioned SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research), a collaborative initiative to reform the European airspace and unite all of the varying systems of its countries under a singular air traffic management program. With the Paris Air Show next week, I want to take a closer look at the challenges and benefits of managing a major international airspace like Europe.

The European airspace is a complex environment.  There are 39 member states in EUROCONTROL and over 60 en route air traffic control centers, many more terminal air traffic control areas and individual airport control towers.  All of this makes for a very complex and expensive air traffic management system for Europe.

The European air traffic management system handles 26,000 flights daily and forecasts indicate air traffic levels are likely to double by 2020. In response to projected traffic levels and the dramatic growth in air travel witnessed over the last two decades, the European Commission took action in early 2000 to create a legislative framework to improve air traffic management in Europe.

The name of this initiative, ’œSingle European Sky,’ precisely defines its goals. By organizing the European airspace into blocks according to traffic flow rather than to national borders, SESAR is approaching European capacity and safety needs at a continental level, rather than at a national level. Its implementation will improve the overall efficiency of the European air transport system.

In addition to making airspace transitions seamless, another advantage of upgrading our skies in this digital age is the ability to capture and share the massive volume of data we generate. Flights crisscrossing Europe create so much great information we can use to improve operational and infrastructure efficiency in order to support future air travel demands.

Part of reforming airspace architecture through SESAR allows for the development of new technologies and procedures, including an ability to match air traffic demand with the available capacity.

We are working on similar projects here at GE Aviation as we develop Industrial Internet technologies ’“ products and services that will help drive a new level of productivity for the aviation industry.  Sharing common data made possible by the Industrial Internet allows us to learn more about how we are using our airspace, identify where improvements can be made and implement technologies to make the way we fly more efficient.

By working as a team and sharing system data we can improve operations, even for a complex and interconnected airspace like Europe, and create a more pleasurable and sustainable flying experience for all stakeholders. As someone who is simultaneously a pilot, a traveler and an engineer who works on continuing to improve modern flight, I think this is valuable for the future of aviation and the European airspace.

More about the author: Steve Fulton, Technical Fellow at GE Aviation. Steve has been nuts about airplanes for as long as he can remember, working in high school in the antique airplane restoration business and trading work time for flying time in a PT-17 Stearman and Piper J-3 Cub. In the years since, he has gone on to support testing and certification of airborne systems, earn a designation as a Flight Test Pilot for the FAA and fly numerous air transport aircraft.  As a Technical Fellow, Steve spends his time meeting with GE customers to interpret their needs and translate that into innovative products and services, and he is continually seeking new ways to improve the air transportation industry. Follow Steve on Twitter @captstevefulton.

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