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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

Dawn of a new age


New technologies to shape China’s airspace The success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics will not only be measured in terms of packed stadiums, breathtaking opening and closing ceremonies, and record numbers of participating athletes. One major dilemma Olympic organizers are facing is how to manage China’s airspace to accommodate hundreds of commercial aircraft that will fly thousands of athletes, coaches and event spectators to the Games. The Beijing Olympics will be a test of China’s progress in civil aviation, given the complexity of its airspace and geography. On a large scale, China’s civil aviation is growing at an unprecedented rate. It is estimated that Chinese airlines carried 160 million passengers in 2006. Annual aircraft movements in China increased from over 1.5 million in 2001 to close to 3 million in 2005. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) estimates that air traffic movements will reach 5 million per year by 2010. During the US-China Aviation Summit last September, Administrator Marion Blakey of the US Federal Aviation Administration said the two countries are in a critical period in air traffic modernization. “For years, we’ve been talking about approaching a crossroad with our air traffic management systems. We’ve known for some time that we were coming to a point when we’d need to make a decision on modernizing our infrastructure. Well, that day is upon us,” said Blakey. Analysts are forecasting that the Asia-Pacific region will experience robust growth in passenger traffic in the next 20 years, mainly because of the growing aviation markets in China and India. In its global traffic forecast through 2025, the Airports Council International (ACI) says, “By 2010, the number of global passengers is forecast to surpass the 5 billion mark and by 2025 there is expected to be in excess of 9 billion passengers globally.” It projects that, in the next 20 years, world passenger volumes will grow by 4 percent yearly. China is now the second largest aviation market in the world next to the US, owing to the growth in air traffic. But this growth poses a challenge to China, which needs to speed up development of its aviation industry in order to meet the demand. As aircraft movements increase, China’s airspace gets more congested. Russel Chew, chief operation officer of the US Air Traffic Organization, says that flight delays caused by congestion, for instance, account for US$9.4 billion in losses every year in the US. China’s terrain and severe weather conditions pose a challenge to aircraft and air traffic controllers. Another major factor is how to properly allocate China’s airspace between the military and civil aviation. Currently, China’s civilian-controlled airspace is “grossly insufficient,” according to a paper presented during the aviation summit. There is also an insufficient number of aviation professionals, especially controllers. As of 2006, China has only 3,700 certified controllers. As of 2005, China has 1,024 domestic air routes serving 132 Chinese cities, and 233 international air routes serving 75 cities in 33 countries. For the Beijing Olympics, China’s Air Traffic Management Bureau has developed the general air traffic management plan. More domestic and international air routes will be opened for the Olympics and a joint civilian-military TMA will be put in operation in Beijing this year. As of last year, China’s current airspace structure consists of 11 flight information regions (FIR), including Hong Kong and Taibei; 27 upper control areas; 28 low and medium level control areas; 17 approach controls (APPs) and one terminal control area (TMA); and 150 aerodrome control zones, based on the CAAC’s development plan presented in the aviation summit. Its Communication Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) infrastructure consists of 42 air traffic control (ATC) centers; 78 secondary surveillance radars (SSRs) and 34 primary surveillance radars (PSRs); 180 common-antenna multi-channel VHF systems; and 190 VOR/DME. As it modernizes its civil aviation, China is looking at new technologies to maximize use of airspace, ensure safety, and speed up development. One of these technologies is the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), “which works by having aircraft transponders receive GPS signals and use them to determine the plane’s precise location in the sky.” The largest ADS-B deployment in Asia nears completion in the provinces of Sichuan and Henan in China, according to Alaska-based ADS-B Technologies, which partnered with the Civil Aviation Flight University of China in 2005 to equip the university’s trainers with ADS-B technology. “With five ground stations and more than 110 aircraft avionics installations already completed, this is certainly the largest end-to-end ADS-B deployment in Asia, perhaps the largest in the world, other than the FAA’s Capstone Program in Alaska,” said Skip Nelson, president and CEO of ADS-B Technologies, in a statement. Similarly, the ADS-B will be a main component of the US Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), the blueprint of the US aviation industry for the next 20 years. “ADS-B will give us real-time cockpit displays of traffic information, both on the ground and in the air. So for the first time, pilots and controllers will have a much better sense of what’s going on around them at any given time. And that, in turn, will increase capacity,” said Blakey at the summit. The CAAC says it will accelerate the ADS-B implementation in China. CAAC’s Air Traffic Management Bureau has drafted the ADS-B development policy, which will deploy the technology in areas without radar coverage in Western China. An ADS-B experiment will be held in Chengdu-Jiuzhaigou this year, to be followed in the Xi’an and Xinjiang regions. CAAC will collaborate with the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing Co. in the use of ADS-B. China and the US have been collaborating in aviation for years through different programs, including the Joint Air Traffic Service program and the Aviation Cooperation Program. Both the CAAC and FAA are working together on the regulatory framework, TMA airspace planning, flight procedure and operations; VFR charting, flight check methods, reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM), area navigation/required navigation performance (RNAV/RNP) flight procedure design and global navigation satellite system (GNSS). In 2005, Boeing evaluated the CAAC-ATMB five-year transition plan and submitted comments on organizational structure, airspace modeling, data collection and analysis, and preparation for the Olympics. Last April, the CAAC/ATMB, FAA/ATO and Boeing established a three-party joint working team to collaborate on the operation of the three runways of Beijing Airport, air traffic flow management and other technologies. Beijing Airport’s third runway will be in operation before the Olympics to add capacity for landings and takeoffs. RNAV flight procedures, for example, have been tested in Beijing and Tianjin airports and have been found to make flights more accurate, convenient and flexible. The CAAC, FAA and Boeing conducted the Lhasa Airport RNP program procedure design and trial operation. RNAV flight trials are either being planned or have been conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shenyang, Chengdu, Xi’an and Urumqi. Last February 6, Naverus announced that Air China and the CAAC completed the validation flight using RNP at Jiuzhaigou Airport. The airport joins Lhasa and Linzhi Airports that use RNP. technology provided by Naverus. China is eyeing RNAV/RNP to gradually replace conventional flight procedures and ATS routes. Chew explained that, “With RNAV procedures, existing onboard avionics can be used for more predictable and more advanced flight path guidance, so only minimal air traffic instructions are required. This significantly reduces routine controller-pilot communications.” He explained, “because RNAV procedures can reduce its dependence on the exact location of ground-based navigation facilities, the procedures can reduce fuel burn and time. Thus, R-NAV procedures enhance safety, while reducing delay and cost to the airlines.” RNAV is already in operation at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, a procedure which will save airlines about US$39 million. Chinese officials are using the Atlanta model in implementing RNAV at Beijing Airport. “We believe that implementation of RNAV in China will simplify clearances, reduce frequency congestion, enhance safety, and increase capacity in anticipation of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games,” Chew said at the summit. China has also drafted the RVSM implementation plan, which is now awaiting approval by the State ATC Commission. The CAAC said RVSM will be implemented in China in three to five years. Under this plan, the FAA will evaluate the flight level allocation in China while the CAAC-ATMB is working to establish the Safety Monitoring and Evaluation Agency. GNSS will also be part of China’s modernization plan, and will be used in routes and airports in Western China whose geography is not suited to conventional technologies. It will take years before all of these advances be fully implemented and perfected, but China has entered a new era in civil aviation in which the next generation of technologies must be used in order to solve airspace constraints. That China’s passenger and cargo traffic will experience tremendous growth in the next decade is already an accepted fact. The burning question is: can China adapt to the future of air transport systems? The Beijing Olympics will be the big test to see whether China has successfully reformed and developed its civil aviation. Only after all the medals have been awarded, the flame of the Olympic torch has been extinguished and all the athletes and spectators have already left will we know if China has gained the upper hand in defining what it calls the Next Generation of Civil Air Transport System.

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