Three costly mistakes in ATM systems upgrade projects

Written by: Helios
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Talk to anyone in the air traffic management industry and they will know of at least one system upgrade project that failed or took so long to deliver that by the time the implementation was 'live' the upgrade was outdated! The reasons for failure can vary from operational unsuitability, to incompatibility with other systems, to lack of user acceptance but look closer and you will spot three costly mistakes that underpin these failures:

1.System focus during solution specification

It can be tempting to focus on a solution very early in the process without taking time to understand either the human related needs or the actual operational requirements. My advice is to focus on the operational issues (i.e., the user requirements) first, rather than the system, which can lead to over specification.

Your operational use cases are the cornerstone of the project. Some people worry that focusing on use cases stifles innovation, but this does not have to be the case. It depends on how you describe the operational solution and whether you leave room for innovative implementations. Use cases are particularly helpful to imagine how the new service will be delivered and how the human actors will use it. But beware being too generic, those use cases need to be specific to your local situation.

2.Regulatory requirements considered too late

How do you evaluate that your chosen system is adequate? A recommended path is through an early regulatory baseline identification and early coordination with the National Supervisory Authority.

The problem is that once again, people tend to become so focussed on what the system can/cannot do that they forget to consider regulatory compliance from the very beginning. Addressing it early will save project teams wasted time and energy as well as ensuring that vital requirements for the system specification are not ignored or identified late.

3.Fail to ensure strong stakeholder buy-in

You have spent months specifying your new system, investigating suppliers, running tests and demonstrations. You have chosen your new system and supplier, but did you ensure user buy-in from the very beginning up to the end?

Even if you are not going for a bespoke system, the off-the-shelf system you choose will need adaptation, so you cannot shortcut the project lifecycle process and the user buy-in.


A task force of change ambassadors, comprising not just ATCOs, but ATSEPs and managers will provide valuable insights. Assembled from the very beginning, that same task force will give you greater visibility of risks and issues, as well as help you to overcome them.

With many ATM system upgrades planned or in progress across the air navigation service provider community, our advice is to focus on stakeholder engagement, develop (and revisit) use cases, and evaluate the regulatory requirements from the start. These three activities will help de-risk the project and support success.

Thierry Arino

Director, Consultancy - Egis Aviation

Thierry presented on this topic at our "Staying relevant and resilient" seminar for ANSPs in Central/Eastern Europe in early October 2019. To find out more about the seminar and access his presentation slides, click here.


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