Industry Interview: Javier Ruano, Indra

The managing director of Indra’s ATM business discuses innovation and industry trends
 Javier Ruano, managing director of Indra’s ATM business
Javier Ruano, managing director of Indra’s ATM business

Javier Ruano, managing director of Indra’s ATM business joined Indra in 1998. Before becoming managing director of the ATM business, he has held positions such as director of European ATM programs, deputy director of ATM and airports general management and director of programs and projects.

In this interview, he discusses the key technologies in ATC which are playing a role in shaping the sector's future, as well as Indra's approach to innovation and other industry trends.


Is there any recent news or developments you would like to highlight?

One of the key projects in which we are currently working is undoubtedly the digital transformation of EUROCONTROL's Network Manager operating system, a unique system that facilitates the coordination of air navigation service providers (ANSPs), airports, airlines, and military entities from 43 states. Its modernization will enable more precise flight operation planning, increasing punctuality and safety, and enhancing air traffic capacity and sustainability in the whole continent.

I would also highlight the recent agreement that Indra has reached with NAV CANADA, which is evaluating the iTEC SkyNex system developed with seven of the leading European ANSPs. Cooperation between the UK, Norway, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Lithuania, and Canada to use this system to manage their airspace could be a historic milestone not only for Indra and iTEC SkyNex but for the entire sector.

Other recent projects to highlight include the modernization of DFS's complete surveillance radar network and the implementation of our remote air traffic control tower at Budapest Airport.

Regarding our expansion, it is worth mentioning the launch of our subsidiary, Indra Air Traffic Inc. in the USA, which makes us a supplier to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the US Air Force. Additionally, the launch of our new subsidiary Indra Park Air, in central England further strengthens our ATM solutions portfolio, making us an international leader in ground-to-air communications and aerospace and ATM communications in general.

What do you think will be the most important technology development for ATM in the next five years?

There is a whole set of new technologies related to big data, cloud computing, increased processing power, and connectivity that are being incorporated to improve air traffic management. The seamless exchange of information and interoperability between control centers in different countries for example allows for optimized routes, reduced times, emissions, and flight management complexity.

Moving systems to the cloud will enable ANSPs to adapt in a much more flexible way to sudden demand changes, such as those experienced during the pandemic, significantly increasing air traffic infrastructure resilience. The incorporation of artificial intelligence is also a major advancement. It will allow ANSPs to respond quickly to unexpected situations, such as extremely adverse weather conditions or volcanic eruptions, as we have already experienced in Europe.

How does Indra's product portfolio fit into the future European vision for ATM?

Our solutions are fully aligned with the requirements defined in the European ATM Master Plan and the SESAR program. Together with our key customers ─ with whom we are proud to say we have a long-standing partnership ─ and European institutions, Indra has not only aligned its portfolio with the European vision, but is also actively contributing to shaping that vision.

Furthermore, we are one of the companies with higher participation within SESAR. And the iTEC SkyNex system that we developed with ENAIRE, DFS, NATS, LVNL, PANSA, Oro Navigacija, and AVINOR has been a game-changer in the deployment of the Single European Sky and the introduction of trajectory-based operations. At this moment, we are one of the very few companies in the world with a complete range of proprietary technology capable to manage a flight gate-to-gate, and all these technologies are aligned with the European ATM vision.

Can you summarize Indra's approach to innovation?

I believe the aviation industry, including Indra has made its greatest achievement by emphasizing collaboration to drive innovation. In such a complex sector with numerous stakeholders, where safety is paramount, it's not just about developing great solutions but also ensuring their rapid deployment to secure the benefits they offer. Programs like SESAR and agreements with major ANSPs have provided the framework for us to make progress.

Simultaneously, Indra is an innovation-oriented company that recognizes its most valuable assets are its professionals and the ideas they bring. We also embrace an open, agile, and flexible innovation model aimed at strategically expanding the capacity to generate and capture potentially appealing ideas. We do this by fostering relationships with the entire innovation ecosystem, including startups, entrepreneurs, spin-offs, research groups and universities experimenting with emerging technologies. This approach has positioned Indra as an innovation leader in this sector.

What do you think is the greatest achievement of Indra during your career?

This is difficult to choose. When I started my long career in ATM at Indra we were just a small Spanish company. Today we have implementations in more than 150 countries in all continents.

However, perhaps there should be a special mention to the creation of the iTEC Collaboration/Alliance for the deployment of next-generation air traffic systems across seven of the most important ANSPs in Europe, which was recently extended to NAV Canada as well.

What do you think the ATM sector does best ─ and where do you think it could improve?

We work in a sector where safety is absolutely critical. Consider the thousands of air operations managed every day and the millions of flights controlled each year in Europe alone. All of this is achieved with technology that offers nearly 100% reliability.

However, it is precisely the requirement for safety that makes the introduction of new technologies slower and subject to lengthy processes. This undoubtedly needs improvement, with a focus on finding ways to introduce new technologies more agilely without compromising safety.

Do you think the ATM sector is contributing enough to improving the environmental performance of aviation? 

The ATM sector is contributing significantly and will continue to do so in the coming years, but I would not say it's enough. Undoubtedly, air traffic management technology is ready to be implemented and provide immediate environmental improvements. The key is to advance its implementation. In the future, new fuels, lighter aircraft materials, or even electric engines will come into play, but in ATM, we already have many of the systems needed to reduce unnecessary emissions to nearly zero. This aligns with the European Commission's goal for 2050: to make Europe the most sustainable airspace in the world, known as Green Aviation.