We recently spoke to our Head of R&D at OCEM Airfield Technology and formerly a Senior Researcher at the Center of Industrial Research, University of Bologna. We wanted to understand how the world of ATC and the airfield could one day become “one” and what better way to find out than talking with an expert on the matter. This article also recently appeared in ATM World magazine.
Our focus is to discuss the role of ALCMS or Airfield Lighting Control and Monitoring System in our world of aviation. Will the ALCMS in the future play a key role in the efficiency improvement at airports and no longer be limited to serving one single purpose?
This is indeed correct. The current generation of ALCMS systems is very focused on specific products in the field, providing support and functionalities that airports need as part of a process. The best example is the case for airfield ground lighting where the users of the system activate the system, change the intensity of the lights, or switch on and off series of lights. However, the next generation ALCMS will more than ever need to interface with other systems to improve the performance and reliability of existing functions and implement a whole new set of applications.
We see, in fact, that the ACLMS can feed into systems that focus on ground handling activities or can itself become a central system where data from other systems is fed into it. Nowadays, varied information on air and ground traffic is widely available but traditionally spread across different platforms. By interacting with other systems, like ADSB or MLAT, ALCMS can play a central role in the implementation of innovative A-SGMCS functions (Follow-the-Green for example), while guaranteeing superior safety levels through a prompt visual alerting system for pilots preventing runway incursions and other collision hazards. In this perspective, several instruments to increase the context-awareness are already deployed on the field, like microwave sensors or inductive loops for automatic stop-bar management, while other solutions based on high-resolution cameras and computer vision technologies are currently under investigation. Besides air traffic management, the next generation of air/ground synchronization will be based on high-performance tracking of the entire ground traffic, including all different vehicles on the ground and interfacing with systems that focus on aircraft approach, etc. We are looking at a system that needs to support the optimal routes and manage safe surface operations. Ideally, you should have one seamless system that knows when an aircraft is approaching, the exact locations of vehicles on the field so as to activate all systems on the ground to prepare for the plane’s arrival, handling, and making it departure ready. But this reality still seems far off.
What stops us from implementing this today?
The most important thing is to be able to interface with different systems, reliably and in line with timing requirements imposed by regulatory bodies. We are still far away from standardization in this sense as most organizations continue to focus on “compartments” at the airport or “separate worlds” as we have always known them: ATC, Airfield, Apron, and Terminal. We need to have not only one flow but also one organization that is able to cover all these elements into one body that determines standards and processes.
How will such a uniform approach work?
The uniform system can leverage AI to propose the most optimized routes, with the supervision of operators. The architecture we are currently working on is based on a protocol used in the tower by different systems to allow for traffic optimization. This kind of interface with third-party systems works – it’s as if the different software platforms were originally designed as part of the same integrated system, potentially rendering the sensor/lighting system completely available to third party systems, to retrieve information and to receive commands. The system can thus evolve in the direction of innovative A-SMGCS. The flow of information both in and out will be seamless, safer, and much more transparent. The integration of such a system will be so much easier and safer.
The importance of visual aids for the overall safety on the airfield is not debatable: the lights that are switched on, red, green, etc. are one of the most important elements on the field we can use/see. On the airfield, there is a lot of information already coming from different systems at the airport but the technological architectures are often not designed to facilitate products and solutions talking to each other.
Moving to an open architecture, the ALCMS will become a central system, an instrument to feed into other systems (or vice versa) so all systems can work on the same real-time information which is open and thus enables the above.
Safety comes from the right information, at the right place, and at the right time.
One big overriding system to control traffic seamlessly, what’s next?
In our vision, we need to have a system that goes beyond routing and integrating different functions. The system we are eyeing is a system that also suggests maintenance downtimes when airfield ground lights tell us they need maintenance or might fail or a system that suggests different scenarios when certain elements fail between landing and parking. This is already the case in a lot of light control and monitoring solutions (ILCMS) where several scenarios are active should lights or part of the ILCMS system fail. It makes sense to use this scenario also for all other aspects on the ground which can easily be done once all different ground systems are integrated.