Collaborative Control

Exploring opportunities for control outside of sector

Collaborative Control is a SESAR Joint Undertaking project which brings together industry partners from across Europe. The project is working to develop a set of tools which will allow controllers to issue instructions to aircraft operating in airspace outside of their current geographic sector boundary.

Today’s procedures for managing safe separation of aircraft have been followed for many years. Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) normally hold exclusive responsibility for specific, geographically defined sectors, and if they wish to control an aircraft outside their sector, they must agree a ‘coordination’ with the controller of that airspace sector using either a phone call or an electronic message. This ensures that safe separation between aircraft can always be maintained, but this takes time and doesn’t always enable aircraft to take the most optimal route.

The SESAR concept of Collaborative Control, facilitated by new advanced ATC tools, will instead allow controllers to issue instructions to aircraft beyond their sector autonomously, and without the need for these coordination processes. This solution can be used for separation or air traffic flow/complexity management purposes, therefore enabling more fuel-efficient flight profiles and/or reduced ATCO workload.

Looking further ahead, these tools may offer an autonomous en-route control capability to enable more joint and integrated control between different controllers (e.g. civil and military) operating within the same airspace volume, thereby reducing the need for certain volumes of airspace to be reserved for occasional and exclusive use.

This concept is applicable to many different airspace environments, including very high complexity airspace such as the UK’s, and enables one ATCO to safely instruct an aircraft to operate within an airspace sector that is under the control of another ATCO without a coordination being agreed explicitly first, by supporting all involved ATCOs with the new toolset and supporting procedures.

This system works by defining airspace which is ‘reserved’ for the ATCO who ‘owns’ the airspace sector based on the expected needs of the flight while under the control of that ATCO. The remaining airspace is designated as “free” for use autonomously by other ATCOs on a collaborative control basis.

The Collaborative Control concept requires the possible results of a collaborative action to be shown to all relevant ATCOs to assure safe separation through the provision of effective situational awareness, whilst maximising human performance. All those involved would be aware of the traffic situation and maintain their ability to safely separate their traffic.

The concept will continue to be refined through expert engagement, and a working prototype of the toolset will be validated with operational ATCOs in Spring 2022.

The concept has been created to compliment future airspace modernisation, including Free Route Airspace and Systemisation, where an element of ‘airspace sharing’ is critical to success.

This project has received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 874464. The opinions expressed herein reflect the authors’ view only. Under no circumstances shall the SESAR Joint Undertaking be responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

Potential benefits

Improved environment

Reduced workload

Increased capacity

Enhanced safety

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