Q&A: Simon Hocquard, CANSO

Simon Hocquard, director general of CANSO discusses the trends impacting the ATC sector

The Civil Air Navigation Services Organization had a busy 2023 and is looking forward to an even busier 2024.

The successful launch of its Airspace World event in Geneva was a milestone for CANSO after years of partnering with the Air Traffic Control Association on the World ATM Congress in Madrid. The organisation has also recently launched an environmental initiative alongside a new membership category.

Air Traffic Technology International talked with Simon Hocquard, director general of CANSO in September 2023 to get his insights on developments in his organisation and the ATM industry.

Q: Can you update us on recent changes with CANSO?

We recently launched our Green ATM environmental accreditation. It is the first time that our industry has had an independent environmental accreditation scheme. It measures how an ANSP runs its centres and facilities, the sustainability policies it has in place and how they are making the airspace as efficient and sustainable as possible. It is a key value add. It is backed by CANSO and one of our members Think Research.

Our first award was given to the Swiss ANSP – Skyguide – earlier this year and there is a long list of ANSPs lining up behind them wanting accreditation. The other value-add for our members recently has been a return to CANSO’s global and regional face-to-face events. There was a huge desire post-Covid to return to live events and that has not abated. We create places for people to discuss important issues like air traffic flow management, safety and cybersecurity with their peer group and to discover new technologies and innovations from the wider industry.

Q: Can you tell me about the new membership category?

This was another positive change agreed at the AGM. The new category is for people in academia and research institutes – agencies like NASA’s Ames Research Centre for example – where there are people keen to join the ATM community.
It is an important change because of our work on future technologies and services. Researchers have the capabilities and the resources to provide lots of unbiased independent work for us. Equally, we can provide them with our expertise and experience and access to the knowledge that sits with our members.

The new membership category will help facilitate a much broader exchange of knowledge and a higher level of interaction. It is a key change since we are not just helping to create collaborations across the ATM sector, but also outside of the industry.

Q: Can you tell me about the CATS Global Council?

The Complete Air Traffic System (CATS) Global Council is a forum of industry bodies that brings more than 80 aviation stakeholders together across the world, including new and traditional airspace users. It has created a shared vision of what airspace will look like in 2045. CATS is unique and incredibly powerful – we are all trying to do the same thing and the
right thing.

Through the forum we have helped the whole of the industry agree to a vision and a high-level roadmap that starts to hold organisations and companies to account. There are now work programmes that different organisations sponsor and lead. We are in an implementation phase which is quite hard, and CANSO’s role is to help facilitate and coordinate it.

Q: Why did you set up CATS?

We realised that there was no one view of how to build a future integrated sky, so there was an opportunity to bring the entire aviation industry together. CATS is the first time I have seen the whole industry saying the same thing. Airspace users like Airbus and Boeing have always had views about what the airspace of the future looks like. Air traffic management had its view too, but globally, there was nothing that aligned all areas of our industry on a single vision for the future.

Q: How is the sector accommodating new users like eVTOL aircraft, drones and new space?

The dial has moved and there are two main aspects to this. Large air navigation service providers all over the world have decades of experience. As a result of that and everybody’s hard work, including airlines and airports, we have the safest transport industry in the world.

Around 10 years ago a lot of new companies arrived with the ability to innovate and do things differently in a matter of months. That caused a cultural clash at the time, but now there is a realisation of the roles that both parties
must play.

ANSPs have that vital experience of ATM but acknowledge they need to move faster. We need to meld our experience with that of the new technology companies, to help the industry develop faster than it does currently, and to enable these new vehicles like eVTOLs and drones to take to the skies quickly and safely.

But it is also critical that we engage with key industry bodies like ICAO. I am pleased to say that ICAO has agreed that the CATS Global Council work will be used to influence the Global Air Navigation Plan, which is a real global measure of air traffic across the world and the steps that need to be taken to achieve a globally interoperable air navigation system. It is a huge step and a sign we are beginning to join up all the dots.

Q: How are you helping to achieve the sector’s environmental goals?

The sustainability of aviation is critically important to us all. It is in our interest to do as much as we can, as fast as we can, and CANSO is committed to playing our role in achieving the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will provide many of the benefits that we are all seeking. But it will be a while before it is available in sufficient volumes. In the meantime, air traffic management can play a big role. Although it’s a relatively small percentage of the emissions overall, the earlier we can introduce efficiency improving measures such as continuous descent approaches, redesigning airspace, and better air traffic flow management, the greater their impact will be.

Traffic flow management is a key one. We have a network manager in Europe that makes the airspace as efficient as possible and we are working to establish similar bodies in Latin America, Asia and Africa. There is also climate science around the emerging damaging effects of non-CO2 emissions, such as contrails. ATM can play a significant role here by setting aircraft to fly at certain levels and either producing contrails because that’s a benefit to the world or not producing damaging contrails. There is new science emerging on this topic and CANSO is jointly hosting a conference on contrails with EUROCONTROL later in
the year.

Q: Can we accommodate aviation’s growth and prioritise the environment?

I believe so. It is not as simple as sustainability versus capacity. Maybe it is possible to provide more capacity with a less efficient airspace. But you can provide much more capacity with a more efficient airspace.

We all need to try to work together – ATM, the airlines and the airports – to find the most efficient way to manage our
airspace sustainably. Operational tension is the way to get the best out of the whole system.

But capacity will remain a challenge and in new ways. For example, in Europe despite Ukrainian airspace being closed, we are getting back up to 100%. We have the same amount of traffic pre-Covid but we have 20% less airspace. There are capacity crunches that were not there before with flows of traffic that have been altered and new challenges in different airspaces.

Q: Are widespread commercial drone services close to the market?

We are close to a tipping point with drone services and ATM has a role, in that we provide the services and the airspace. Drone operations need to be integrated into the airspace for safety, efficiency and capacity reasons. Drones operate nearer the ground, but there are also ones that operate at 60,000ft and above. Whatever height they’re operating at, they need to integrate with air traffic and CANSO and its members can help to bring everybody together to manage that.

The airspace is going to change in that the number of different services that are going to be required is going to expand dramatically. From travelling between A to B a thousand times a day to transporting cargo across great distances, the type of services will be massively different and there could be lots of different service providers.

But the amount of airspace is finite, so to safely integrate everybody we must get all of the stakeholders together and work together with the regulators towards consistent global standards. These services are coming.

Q: What’s exciting you about the future?

For me, the most exciting part is the change that is already happening. Technology exists to make new things possible – a lot of the time all we have left to do is devise the rules and the regulations that will facilitate its introduction. New ideas and innovation are about to be made real in aviation for the first time, which is a massively exciting prospect.

Airspace is massively interconnected with many different moving parts. Management of airspace requires information and the ability to source information from many different places will fundamentally change how airspace is run in the future, from how we build infrastructure to how passengers book flights. We are at a tipping point for that. So access to data will become more and more important.

But to make our future aspirations a reality, we need a vibrant, diverse workforce. There is a concern that aviation is not attractive to young people because of the environmental debate.

But, I am confident that aviation will become more sustainable and the way our industry is run will be fundamentally different in the future, which is very exciting for recruits to ATM. They will see a lot of change.

Then in the shorter term, I’m looking forward to Airspace World in Geneva next March. We received positive feedback about our inaugural event and Airspace World 2024 will be even bigger and better, so I encourage everybody to come along. It is going to be fantastic.