Perusing the stands at World ATM Congress, 'innovation' was the word of the moment. Mostly it focused on showcasing innovative technical solutions (eg the NATS and Searidge demonstrations of the digital tower at Heathrow) which can be incredibly captivating. Technology is undeniably important, but so are other types of innovation, such as in ANSP business models, rostering and regulatory models. Technical innovation is rarely achieved in isolation.
Looking far beyond SESAR's technical and procedural solutions, how does a business innovate, when it operates in a highly regulated, safety-critical, networked sector? Particularly when the current regulatory model does not support first movers?
Swiss ANSP skyguide is one of the ATC providers that has set out to answer this exact question. Whether driven by the uniqueness of Switzerland's position in European ATM, or the complexity of its local politics, law and geography, it is going far beyond technological innovation to achieve its vision, while always giving due priority to safety. It is transforming its business model, driven by its future operational concept and enabled by a different approach to human resources.
Helios has been working with skyguide's Executive Board to help them frame the issues and opportunities surrounding its business transformation, as well as to explore the possible actions. People feature front and centre of the vision, as a vital source of knowledge, as the pillar for innovation and for delivering future value. With a whole generation of controllers, recruited en masse in the booming traffic of the 90s and due to retire in the coming years, there is a natural opportunity ahead for business and service innovation. A new generation of controllers will be recruited who are used to interacting in their personal lives with the latest technologies, and with different expectations about the role of an ATCO.
A good relationship with state and regulator will also be essential for business transformation. The Swiss regulator recently adapted aviation law to allow skyguide to consider externally provided data services. It will be interesting to see how work progresses in the UK with the CAA's new 'Innovation in Aviation' capability, which is looking at different regulatory models to support innovation (among other things).
Back in Switzerland, ANS transformation is already underway. The digitalisation and 'virtualisation' process will be realised through a Virtual Centre and by deploying remote flight data processing through Coflight Cloud Services. skyguide is also implementing U-Space for drones in a collaborative effort with AirMap, an example of the importance of partnerships between complementary and compatible organisations to deliver change.
This is just one approach to radical innovation. The key is to link technical, with business, with people, looking at the total system and its regulation – and most important, to start with a clear vision.