There is an evolution in the technical systems supporting flight planning operations. Keith Mwanalushi looks at how recent advances can lower airline costs and improve punctuality.

    Over the past 20 years, the aviation industry has achieved a continuous evolution of the technical systems designed to manage the increasing number of aircraft flying.

    Scientists in Germany, for instance, are using the software from Lufthansa Systems to develop new air transport concepts, as well as to explore ways of improving the efficiency of navigation and flight planning.

    In September, Lufthansa Systems announced its support for and collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Lufthansa Systems is making NetLine/Plan and NetLine/Sched flight planning solutions available to the researchers.

    At the beginning of the project, the experts from Lufthansa Systems prepared the underlying data, installed the software on DLR computers and trained the scientists.

    Following the successful completion of the project, the DLR researchers can now use the two NetLine products to quickly simulate various air transport concepts. For example, they can analyse how the development of a faster aircraft would affect flight plans and the airline market in general.

    The project will run until 2020, and the results will be published and thereby made available to the industry. In the meantime, Rene Vierke, director product consulting Lido/Flight at Lufthansa Systems says, a few prerequisites must be met before flight planning can improve.

    “Firstly, the air traffic management entities have to allow the air operators certain freedom of the airspace usage so that each operation individually can be optimised.” Vierke reports that advances are being made.

    For instance, he says implementation of traffic rules in Route Availability Document within the ECAC countries, published yet mandatory route schemes, Organized Track Systems on a global scale in mainly oceanic areas like the North Atlantic.

    Lido/mPilot 2.0
    Lido/mPilot 2.0 – modern design, improved performance and connection to avionics systems at the cockpit

    And also other published route schemes issued by national Air Traffic Management (ATM) authorities within congested airspace, as well as important airspace management initiatives like dynamic airspace management versus segments/routes being closed or made available, or the free route airspace initiatives in individual European Flight Information Region – FIRs.

    “This provides opportunities, but at the same time limitations optimising the air operators’ flight planning operations,” Vierke suggests.

    Importantly, he points to the airspace management rules within the individual European FIRs that need to be harmonised, which is not currently the case and provides unnecessary challenges for the operators.

    Secondly, the computerised flight planning solutions must support such ATM initiatives, Vierke states. He says this support would mean more options would be available for air operators to improve their operation.

    Thirdly, he says these new options must also be implemented in the flight planning operations by these operators. “Should these prerequisites be met then an air operator has good options for improving the flight planning process. The industry challenges within the low cost and regional airline business provide the incentive for air operators to leverage most of the optimisation options provided.”

    In October, Lufthansa Systems announced that its Lido/Flight 4D (flight planning), Lido/Navigation (navigation solutions) and Lido/Performance (flight performance calculation) product lines will become even more integrated, providing airlines with a seamless digital process across all flight operations – from flight planning to an aircraft’s parking position at its destination.

    Digitalisation is affecting the entire aviation industry. We see this in the flight planning and navigation process in particular. Everything is becoming increasingly dynamic and data-driven. Paper maps are being replaced by state-of-the-art apps.

    “New technologies such as in-flight connectivity offer the opportunity to display tactical real-time data such as weather, airspace and traffic information. This is precisely where our integrated Lido solutions come in,” explains Dr. Bernd Jurisch, who took over as head of the Lido product lines at Lufthansa Systems in October.

    Aeroplane taking off over city of London
    The industry is taking off with more efficient flight planning systems

    The mutual exchange of data is of key importance to using Lido products for flight planning and navigation. This is because Lido provides the same information to everyone involved in flight operations – both in the air and on the ground – in situations such as an approach with poor visibility, for example.

    The information seen by pilots on their Lido/Navigation maps is based on the same data as the information available to the flight planner.

    This means the pilot and flight planner can coordinate the minimal decision height more safely and efficiently when choosing an alternate airport and make well-founded decisions in critical situations – such as whether a landing should be aborted or not.

    The shared database is also used when acute meteorological phenomena necessitate a change to the planned route. New information can also be conveyed to pilots immediately during a flight. All of this not only saves time, but it also improves safety.

    Obviously, there are other players on the scene. NAVBLUE, an Airbus company, is pushing ahead with its ‘N-Flight Planning’ system after recently signing a partnership agreement with Hawaiian Airlines.

    It is hoped the new system will further enhance Hawaiian’s flight planning operations, with new technology that calculates the safest and most efficient routes with greater accuracy.

    According to NAVBLUE, N-Flight Planning software incorporates a wide array of information – including weather and GPS data coverage validation, notices issued by meteorological agencies and aviation authorities, and high-resolution upper air wind forecasts – to automatically build routes that help dispatchers and pilots avoid hazards such as turbulence and icing, reducing flight time and conserving fuel.

    The system will be utilised to generate flight plans for Hawaiian’s fleet of 18 A321neo aircraft, scheduled to be delivered between 4Q17 and 2020. The medium-haul, single-aisle neos will usher in Hawaiian’s next growth era when they enter the carrier’s Western US network.

    They will complement Hawaiian’s fleet of long-haul, twin-aisle aircraft used for flying between Hawaii and the US mainland and 11 international destinations, and its narrowbody Boeing 717 fleet flying short, inter-island routes.

    Bird's eye view of airport
    There is need for better optimisation of airspace usage

    “At an increasing pace, airlines around the world, such as Hawaiian, are standardising on NAVBLUE’s N-Flight Planning as their preferred solution to bring greater comfort and safety to their passengers, and efficiencies to their operations.

    “In 10 months, both organisations collaborated closely to complete a very complex project, on time and under budget – a statement to the depth of commitment by both organisations to this growing partnership,” said Shawn Mechelke, vice president N-Software Services at NAVBLUE.

    Digitisation is certainly a game-changer, particularly in the flight planning and navigation process. The entire dispatch process is becoming increasingly dynamic and data-driven, with paper charts being replaced by state-of-the-art apps.

    Speaking of apps and mobile applications, Lufthansa Systems earlier in the year announced the development of an app version of Lido/mBriefing based on the existing crew briefing module of Lido/Flight 4D. Lido/mBriefing supports flight deck crews with the briefing process, as well as during the flight.

    This mobile solution is initially being developed for iOS, with support for Windows devices planned at a later date.

    This development is the aviation IT specialist’s response to increasing digitisation of flight operations processes and the introduction of connectivity on the flight deck, and it also advances the integration of briefing and flight operations solutions.

    Pilots will be able to use the new app to access briefing information and digitally process it during a flight. Briefing systems are traditionally browser-based or only accessible via special terminals on the ground.

    With Lido/mBriefing, flight deck crews can carry out briefing steps on their tablet on the move and can save relevant information for offline use. If changes are made at short notice, pilots receive the necessary notifications via the app so that the crew can react directly to the changes.

    Using Lido/mBriefing, the crew can process all of the information and documentation required during a flight, such as the navigation log. If necessary, documents can be digitally signed after the flight and sent back to the airline’s data warehouse for analysis.

    Route planning with pilot
    Understanding of the existing route options is crucial

    The solution also supports retrospective data analysis to ensure, for example, that deviations from the planned route can be used for future route optimisation. Several national aviation authorities are also catching on with new, similar technologies, not quickly enough for some, but an encouraging show of progress.

    In September, Luftfartsverket (LFV), the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration, became the first operational user of the Surveillance Data Distribution System (SDDS), developed by EUROCONTROL on behalf of its Member States.

    The SDDS is the successor of the Surveillance Messaging Conversion and Distribution Equipment (RMCDE) that has been in use in various European countries since 1991. The SDDS uses state-of-the-art technologies to enable air navigation service providers to exchange surveillance data efficiently.

    In line with the need for increased security levels, the SDDS was developed as a security gateway from the outset. In the coming months, LFV will regularly add more airport clients to the SDDS, notably Bromma, which is the third-largest airport in Sweden.

    “LFV has been working intensively with its IP infrastructure over the last two to three years and efficient, effective and safe surveillance data distribution is an essential part of this infrastructure. As the first operational user with SDDS, we have now reached a new level with the possibility of distributing, handling and managing surveillance information all over our own network and with external parties,” says Anders Andersson, surveillance systems manager at LFV.

    For low cost and regional air operators, in particular, Vierke, perhaps unsurprisingly, recommends the flight planning system from Lufthansa Systems Lido/Flight 4D, saying it provides the best-integrated database, a superior route optimiser, and the highest automation potential.

    “These are the three cornerstones for leveraging the optimisation potential in the flight planning operations. The data integration and optimisation part provides the capabilities using the traffic options provided by the ATMs, and the automation allows for effective usage.”

    Despite the advances being made in the flight planning space, challenges persist. According to Vierke, one of the key challenges for air operators and computerised flight planning systems is the understanding of the existing route options and optimising those on a daily basis. “This requires Lufthansa Systems to always be on top of the game with the changes occurring,” he says.

    To keep up, Lufthansa Systems actively participates in ATM initiatives like SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) and weighs in on the knowledge and experience it generates from having an airline sister and a profound understanding of airline operations and IT.

    Vierke believes this is the best combination for creating and supporting flight planning solutions. He says every new aspect which is being discussed or implemented in such initiatives is being analysed for the two major Lido/Flight 4D features.

    Hopefully, these new efficiencies in flight planning and navigation will translate to improved punctuality for passengers.