1 Enhancing Airspace Efficiency and Capacity in the Asia Pacific Region ABSTRACT The Asia Pacific region currently has a market share of 30 per cent of the world s total number of passengers per kilometre flown. With its growing economies and increasingly affluent population, the growth rate for air passenger traffic in Asia Pacific will be higher than North America and Europe in the coming years. In response, countries in the region are building airports at breakneck speed to welcome the airplanes and passengers. However, this is but one part of the solution. Over and above the construction of airports, there is an urgent need to build other related infrastructure for better surveillance and air traffic management (ATM) capability and also to enhance capacity in the en-route sectors. This paper highlights the current weaknesses in the Asia Pacific region and stresses the need for a coordinated effort to address an obvious need to develop a harmonised and more efficient route network for the entire region, as opposed to the current piecemeal approach.
2 THE AUTHOR Mr Soon Boon Hai is the Air Traffic Management Operations Consultant to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). In his current role, he also advises the Air Traffic Management Research Institute based at the Singapore Nanyang Technological University on ATM matters. Mr Soon has spent his entire working life engaged in ATM. His extensive experience includes a two-year stint as ATM Expert in the ICAO Regional Office in Bangkok, and six years as Assistant Director (Safety, Operations and Infrastructure) in the International Air Transport Association Singapore Office. He served for 36 years in CAAS, during which he was Chief of ATC for the last two years. He has played key roles in many of the ATM initiatives in the Asia Pacific region in the last 30 years which has provided significant benefits to users. Among these are the redesign of the routes in the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal and South Asia, and Air Traffic Flow Management for flights to Western Europe from South East Asia during the evening peak hours. He was conferred the Public Administration Medal (Silver) for outstanding public service at the Singapore National Day Awards in 2000.
3 Soon Boon Hai Air Traffic Management Research Institute, Singapore INTRODUCTION With 39 States and 50 air navigation service providers (ANSPs), the Asia Pacific region is probably the world s most diverse with regard to cultural and political differences. Understandably, issues relating to ATM, capacity, technical and other issues pertaining to harmonisation of efforts are much more challenging than elsewhere. According to Eagles (2013a), by 2016, three of the world s biggest domestic markets would be in Asia: China with 415 million passengers, India with million and Japan with 93.2 million. Boeing and Airbus envisage that more than 12,000 new aircraft will enter Asia s skies by To cater to the explosive growth, 350 new airports are projected to be built in Asia Pacific over the next 10 years. Reflecting the expected growth areas, China alone is expected to be building around 100 airports, and on the western edge of the Asia Pacific, India will be building 60 airports. Indonesia will also be building more than 60 airports in the next five years. Kuala Lumpur International Airport has commissioned a third runway, and is gearing up for 100 million passengers by Hong Kong wants to handle 97 million passengers by Singapore is also building a fourth terminal and preparing to open a third runway and a fifth terminal by mid-2020s, to cater for an expected 135 million passengers. Given that a large part of the region is covered by oceans, where will the concentration of traffic be? Past data shows that 75 per cent of the traffic is concentrated in the North Asian and South East Asian regions, with India accounting for 9 per cent, and Australia and New Zealand accounting for 12 per cent. McLean (2013b) described it this way: If you look down the spine of Asia Pacific, from China through Japan, the South China Sea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, that is where the growth is going to come from. Additional airports and runways are crucial elements in catering for air traffic and passenger growth, but what is perhaps equally important if not more so, is ensuring that there is sufficient capacity in the route structure in the en-route phase to carry this additional load safely and efficiently. Airports do not exist in isolation; they need to be connected. The already congested en-route airspace between busy airports will get even more congested, particularly when they have remained unchanged for more than a decade and, in some cases, for several decades. Journal of Aviation Management
4 Some of these international routes are short to medium hops such as between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and Hong Kong and Beijing, and are mainly over land. However, unlike Europe and the US, some busy city pairs such as Singapore and Hong Kong, Jakarta and Singapore, and Manila and Tokyo are separated by water, and in some areas where there is a large expanse of water, the provision of air traffic surveillance will pose some challenges. REGIONAL ROUTE REVIEWS Recognising the underlying inefficiencies of the route structure, the Asia Pacific Office of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had initiated two major route reviews, first over the South China Sea, and also over the Bay of Bengal. Some other areas of Asia Pacific, such as over the North, Central and South Pacific Ocean, US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand were able to forge ahead on their own as the main players had the wherewithal to design and implement efficient air traffic services (ATS) routes leveraging on new navigation and communications capabilities of modern aircraft. Hence, the airspace in the Pacific area was among the first in the world to implement a reduced horizontal separation, applying 30 nautical miles (NM)/30NM separation to Required Navigation Performance (RNP) 4 capable aircraft. The South China Sea route restructure was implemented in 2001, while the Asia to Middle East/ Europe, South of the Himalayas (EMARSSH) project which redesigned the route structure over the Bay of Bengal, continental India and the Arabian Sea was implemented in Route spacing over the South China Sea was set at 60NM from one another (based on a now outdated RNP 12.6 requirement), and 50NM for the routes in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea (based on RNP10 requirement). Further work on the EMARSSH routes continued on and off through the various ICAO fora to improve the connectivity through the Indian continent, Pakistan and Afghanistan airspace to enhance efficiency of the overall system. Despite a new and more efficient EMARSSH route structure, long haul flights from South East Asian and Indian airports to Western Europe still encountered substantial delays due to the bunching of flights crossing the Kabul Flight Information Region (FIR) at the same time in order to meet European airport curfew restrictions. These were successfully resolved through a collaborative effort by the major stakeholders led by the ICAO Asia Pacific Office, resulting in an Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) system known as the Bay of Bengal Cooperative Air Traffic Flow Management System (BOBCAT), hosted by Thailand. In contrast with the Pacific airspace, separation based on RNP10 (50NM/50NM) has only recently been applied on some routes in the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal area. These were the two major undertakings by the ICAO Asia Pacific Regional Office. Needless to say, they were well supported by the main stakeholders. These were difficult projects and there were major hurdles to overcome because of the diversity in terms of ATS infrastructure and capability. Care had to be taken to ensure that the route structure was realistic and yet forwardlooking, and not pegged to the lowest common denominator. 32 Journal of Aviation Management 2014
5 The result was a huge leap in capacity, efficiency, and safety. Another major benefit was of course a reduction in air traffic control (ATC) workload in resolving conflicts, and coordination processes, as a result of bringing many of the conflict points into radar surveillance coverage. Figure 1 illustrates the situation before and after the EMARSSH and South China Sea route redesign. Bay of Bengal Before EMARSSH Restructure After EMARSSH Restructure Figure 1-1: The Bay of Bengal Routes Before and After the Redesign Journal of Aviation Management
6 South China Sea Before Restructure After Restructure Figure 1-2: The South China Sea Routes Before and After the Redesign BUSY CITY PAIRS Meanwhile in the last decade, the increase in capacity has been eroded by the doubling and, in some cases, trebling of air traffic movements, and airlines are beginning to bear the brunt of the resultant delays and sub-optimal flight levels. Regional efforts to address such issues would have been more appropriate, but because of the practical difficulties in organising such activities, States and ANSPs have responded by resorting to bilateral collaboration with neighbouring States and ANSPs in addressing the efficiency and capacity issues related to specific busy city 34 Journal of Aviation Management 2014
7 pairs, such as between Singapore and Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, as well as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur by reducing the horizontal separation between flights and realigning routes. Other sub-regional initiatives are also in progress to implement Automatic Dependent Surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) in critical areas in the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal. However, these are piecemeal efforts, and the results are slow in coming, and limited in scope. There are practical problems in finding suitable sites to locate the ground stations and managing data sharing. Meanwhile, airlines which are equipped and ready are getting impatient, waiting to gain some benefits in both capacity and efficiency in the en-route airspace beyond the busy city pairs, to be extended to the entire Asia Pacific airspace. LACK OF SURVEILLANCE An overriding concern is the lack of surveillance over the oceanic airspace. While the overland airspace in many cases has overlapping and even redundant surveillance capability, much of the oceanic airspaces do not. What is worse is that some of the choke points occur in the oceanic airspace without surveillance, as a consequence of crossing routes between some busy city pairs. It goes without saying that these choke points, which are already extremely limiting, will be severely stressed as the traffic mounts. NEED FOR NEW ROUTE STRUCTURE The application of available technologies will by themselves bring benefits. For example, the implementation of RNP 4 (30NM/30NM) will allow flights to be separated horizontally (longitudinally as well as laterally) by 30NM instead of 50NM or more. However, the benefits in the lateral dimension go to waste in airspace where routes are separated laterally by more than 50NM. Likewise, the much-reduced separation allowed by surveillance provided by ADS-B will be wasted on flights which have to navigate on routes separated by 60NM such as in the South China Sea. On a single lane airway, as much as one tries to reduce the longitudinal gaps between the aircraft, the benefits will be limited. However, if the same airspace could be designed to contain more routes spaced 30NM apart, or even 10NM to 20NM apart, making full use of the available navigation capability of aircraft and surveillance capability, the number of lanes can be doubled or trebled overnight. Recently, there had been moves to implement limited ATFM between busy city pairs. This will go some way to resolve some of the current congestion and efficiency issues. It will also provide the means to make more efficient use of existing capacity. However, ATFM will not create additional capacity; only a reduction of separation between aircraft as a consequence of better communications, navigation and/or surveillance in the ATM system will create some additional capacity. The full benefits can only be obtained if these are applied in the context of a route structure which is harmonised across FIR boundaries and which leverages on all these capabilities and with matching ATC procedures. For example, in Europe as well as the US, the entire airspace is served by a network of closely-spaced, mostly unidirectional performance- Journal of Aviation Management
8 based navigation (PBN) routes, to allow for the efficient use of the same flight levels in both directions. Imagine what a loss of 50 per cent of the route network in Europe or US for a single day would do to the already congested daily traffic flow. And this is where the Asia Pacific route network stands currently routes are widely spaced, bi-directional, many are still not PBN-based, and surveillance is not available where needed, constraining the capacity for no good reason. A comparison of the route network charts of Europe, US and Asia Pacific in Figures 2 to 4 will clearly illustrate how sparse and underdeveloped the route network is in the Asia Pacific region. If the region intends to be in a position to be able to handle the anticipated burgeoning traffic, it must not place its bets only on more efficient airports, better designed terminal control areas, piecemeal ATFM, or reduced horizontal separation minima. These will only create the conditions for more efficient handling of the traffic. Take for example ATFM. As mentioned earlier, ATFM will not increase capacity. Furthermore, its effectiveness will be severely constrained in the context of the current route structure as there is no possibility of re-routing aircraft away from congested routes to an alternative route (there is only one route per city pair currently, despite the fact that some cities have more than one major airport). If there is no route structure with sufficient capacity, all the efficiencies and capacity derived from more runways, more airports and better terminal area infrastructure will come to nought, as ATC will only be delivering flights from efficient airports and terminal airspaces into a traffic jam. ICAO ASIA PACIFIC ATM STRATEGY In the Asia Pacific region, the relevant foundational documents such as the Asia Pacific Air Navigation Concept of Operations (CONOPS) (ICAO, 2014), the Revised Surveillance Strategy for the Asia Pacific Region (ICAO, 2013a), the Asia Pacific Seamless ATM Plan (ICAO, 2008) and the Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP) (ICAO, 2013b) all exhort States and ANSPs to implement measures to build capacity and efficiency while ensuring harmonisation. For example, the CONOPS specifies that with regard to ATS communications, States or ANSPs should provide Very High Frequency (VHF) communications, and as a minimum Controller-pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) backed by high frequency communications and satellite voice, if VHF is not possible. In regard to navigation, air routes above 19,500 feet and within terminal controlled airspace associated with major aerodromes must be PBN-based. Where direct ATS surveillance is possible, ATC separation must be based on these surveillance systems, otherwise they need to provide Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract/CPDLC to provide at least RNP4 30NM/30NM, and in the future, a more precise RNP 2. The Revised Surveillance Strategy for the Asia Pacific region goes further to say that ADS-B surveillance is to be made available on major air routes and in the terminal area airspace. The 36 Journal of Aviation Management 2014
9 Figure 2: European Route Network (Source: SkyVector) Figure 3: US Route Network (Source: SkyVector) Figure 4: Asia Pacific Route Network (Source: SkyVector) Journal of Aviation Management
10 ICAO Asia Pacific Seamless ATM Plan which was developed by the Asia Pacific Seamless ATM Planning Group and endorsed by the Asia Pacific Air Navigation Planning and Implementation Group has highlighted that the route structure had not kept pace with the growth in air traffic in the region. The fragmented FIRs and the imbalance in the economic development of the States had a large part to play in this lack of proper route development. Coupled with this was a lack of regional coordination due in part to the differing interests and requirements of the States in any harmonised route development. As a result, the current route structure is largely based on historical requirements and takes little account of current aircraft navigational capability. This is exacerbated by the fact that the routes between busy airports separated by large tracts of water are often left without surveillance capability as the ground stations which radar surveillance is dependent on are usually located on land. Separating aircraft on crossing tracks in such airspace is more demanding and the larger separation required means that the same volume of airspace could carry fewer aircraft. In some cases, such as the South China Sea area, this is resolved through the use of a Flight Level Allocation System which, while ensuring safety and providing ATC with an easier means to achieve aircraft separation had resulted in some loss of airspace capacity. The Seamless ATM plan also has the expectation that ADS-B should be available in all Category S airspace (i.e. serviced or potentially serviced en-route airspace by direct ATS communications and surveillance and not dependent on a third party communication service provider) which includes the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea airspace. The Seamless ATM Plan has also identified En-route Data-link of the GANP as one of the critical upgrades. CONCLUSION ICAO has urged all States to implement area navigation (RNAV) and RNP as well as ATS routes and approach procedures in accordance with the ICAO PBN concept laid down in the PBN Manual ICAO Assembly Resolution A37-11 (ICAO, 2010) has also exhorted States to complete a PBN implementation plan as a matter of urgency to achieve implementation of RNAV and RNP operations (where required) for en route and terminal area spaces according to established timelines and intermediate milestones. Individual States may be able to implement routes within its own airspace, but cannot produce a regional route structure. And a piecemeal approach can only beget piecemeal results. A regional approach is the only way forward in order to design and implement a modern and more efficient route structure where this airspace resource can be maximised. The question is who has the responsibility or resources to do this? If this was US or Europe, the responsibility would fall to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the European Union (EU). But Asia Pacific is different. There is no single ANSP like FAA in the US, or the Single European Sky ATM Research programme and EU for Europe. Each country has its own plans. And as McLean (2013) says, You have got to try and coordinate that and establish some common vocabulary. 38 Journal of Aviation Management 2014
11 In the Asia Pacific region, the ICAO Regional Office has successfully taken the lead in the past on planning and implementing region-wide initiatives, such as reduced vertical separation minima, Year 2000 plan (Y2K), New Flight Plan format, ATFM for flights through Kabul (BOBCAT) and the two route reviews described in this paper. It is only natural that stakeholders would expect the ICAO Regional Office to once again coordinate this effort. References Ballantyne, T. (2013a). ATM: Asia Pacific heads for seamless skies. Orient Aviation, p.12. Ballantyne, T. (2013b). ATM: Asia Pacific heads for seamless skies. Orient Aviation, p.14. ICAO. (2010). PBN Manual ICAO Assembly Resolution A Montreal. International Civil Aviation Organization. ICAO. (2013a). Revised Surveillance Strategy for the Asia Pacific Region. Montreal. International Civil Aviation Organization. ICAO. (2013b) Global Air Navigation Plan, Document Montreal. International Civil Aviation Organization. ICAO. (2014). Asia Pacific Air Navigation Concept of Operations. Montreal. International Civil Aviation Organization. Journal of Aviation Management