Kevin Shum, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), reflects on how CAAS has evolved as a leading Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) that is committed to safer skies and more efficient air traffic flows for all.
Committed to our ANSP role
Singapore has been managing air traffic for the Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR) since 1946. What do you think are Singapore’s key attributes as an ANSP that allows it to punch above its weight on the global stage?
We have come a long way as an ANSP. Today, we manage air traffic flying through the airspace around Singapore. It is one of the most important, busiest and most complex blocks of airspace in the world, with some 720,000 international flights in 2017, and four of the world’s top 10 international aviation routes transiting through it.
Safety and efficiency are key. We continue to maintain an IFALPA-Free safety record and our on-time performance for Changi remains very good. According to statistics by British aviation consultancy OAG, Changi Airport’s on-time performance ranks in the top tier amongst comparable airports.
Our ability to deliver such results is largely attributable to our highly competent and committed air traffic control officers, investments in the latest technologies, our forward-looking policies, as well as our continuous drive to improve and innovate.
We invest in our people through continuous training and upskilling, and nurturing a culture of excellence where passion for the job, pride in the profession, and a strong work ethic are key tenets that our people stand by. We are also constantly planning ahead of the curve, driving innovation and investing in cutting-edge technologies, to enable our people to be even more effective and future-ready. Examples of such technologies include our state-of-the-art LORADS III air traffic management (ATM) system, a smart digital tower, space-based technologies (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Very High Frequency (VHF) systems) for enhanced aircraft tracking and communications, as well as data management systems, such as System Wide Information Management (SWIM) and big data to improve information sharing and data analytics.
The ATM environment is dynamic and fluid so the status quo is not an option. To serve as a nexus for the exploration of ATM capabilities and solutions to meet the needs of Singapore and the Asia Pacific through research and development (R&D), Singapore set up the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for ATM in 2012. Such investments are driven by our commitment to make a difference and contribute to the advancement of aviation in the region.
We take our responsibility to the larger aviation community seriously. We contribute actively to international rule-making and collaboration, because we recognise that safety and efficiency are maximised when the whole international aviation community is working together. We therefore are deeply involved in working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other states to develop a new Global Air Navigation Plan and the Asia Pacific Regional Air Navigation Plan, as we want to enable global interoperability, which is critical in enhancing safety and efficiency in ATM.
Embracing air traffic growth
Today, some air transport markets are already operating beyond design capacity. Expanding or building new airports is costly. How will Singapore cope with the exponential rate of air traffic growth?
This is a challenge globally, but especially in the Asia Pacific, given the rapid pace of air traffic growth.
For Singapore, we have been adopting various innovative means to manage increasing air traffic without compromising safety, such as tapping space-based ADS-B and more advanced aircraft tracking technology to pack more aircraft closer to increase airspace capacity. We have also spearheaded an initiative, in collaboration with partner ANSPs, to set up a Distributed Multi-Nodal Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) network, which enables various ANSPs to share information more effectively so as to reduce congestion in the air and delays on the ground. This is a first for the region. The trial results have been very encouraging and we are now rolling it out with our partners and inviting more to participate in this. Beyond this, we are also working on developing long-range ATFM as a global solution to benefit the aviation community.
At the same time, we are working with other parties on developing ATM capabilities on other fronts. For example, we have been partnering the Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI), Singapore’s first institute dedicated to ATM R&D jointly set up by CAAS and the Nanyang Technological University, to develop capabilities to perform more advanced ATM modelling and simulation. Other projects involve the analysis of specific air route capacity for the ICAO South China Sea Traffic Flow Review Group, as well as the prototyping of integrated flight data analytics that can fuse different flight data types (such as ADS-B and flight schedules), and compute statistics on arrival delays at airports. Such data analytics will contribute to more predictive ATM and help us better manage even greater volumes of air traffic efficiently and safely.
We are also tapping MITRE Asia Pacific Singapore’s (MAPS’s) advanced ATM Laboratory to conduct experiments and demonstrations aimed at enhancing the capacity, efficiency and safety for Singapore and the region by focusing on five key areas: data analytics, implementing Singapore’s third runway and maximising the capacity of a three-runway operation, artificial intelligence, safety information sharing and regional collaboration, and harmonising support capability.
Working together as one global community
How important is collaboration in aviation. Why?
Flight and air passenger volumes double once every 15 years since data on this was first tracked in the 1970s. New unmanned and commercial space-related services are also increasingly competing for airspace. These factors make our already complex operating environment even more challenging. Collaboration is key to overcoming this.
If we do not move forward with a mindset of collaboration, we cannot progress with more efficient and safer ATM. Operating unilaterally in aviation actually compromises safe air travel.
This is why we collaborate extensively with various parties and across diverse projects. Besides contributing to numerous ICAO expert bodies and working groups, and spearheading projects such as Distributed Multi-Nodal ATFM for the region, we have also worked with our regional counterparts on projects to improve air routes to increase ATM efficiency and capacity, and we continually participate in various regional ATM working groups.
We also collaborate regularly with international entities and other ANSPs such as the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), International Air Transport Association (IATA), MITRE, NATS, and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), on a wide range of projects.
A strategic roadmap for a sustainable future
What is CAAS’s vision for Singapore’s ATM future?
The vision of Singapore’s future ATM is anchored on three key goals: Capacity optimisation, efficiency improvement and safety enhancement. In addition, we are also working towards achieving seamless ATM operations in this region.
To achieve these goals, we have formulated our ATM Master Plan with six operational transformation areas:
Flexibility of airspace
Ground movement synchronisation
Information-based ATM network
Optimal human performance
It is a strategic roadmap to facilitate long-term planning in an ever-changing ATM landscape. The Plan also guides the transformation of our services, innovation direction and operational enhancements.
How can Singapore and the region ensure that aviation remains sustainable?
Given the extent to which aviation crosses borders, I would put it down to three Cs: Consideration, Collaboration and Commitment.
With burgeoning air traffic growth in Asia Pacific and the diversity in ATM infrastructure and operating models in the region, our air traffic control officers operate in one of the most complex airspace structures in the world. Air traffic around Singapore is particularly complex due to the cluster of civilian airports and military airbases situated within a radius of some 50 nautical miles (or 90km) from the island.
To ensure that the ever-increasing traffic at the five civilian airports are managed safely and efficiently, CAAS coordinates closely with ANSPs of adjacent FIRs to continually smoothen and improve operational coordination for safe and efficient air traffic flows to and from all the airports.
In this complex environment that we operate in, any unilateral action made by any party is dangerous. It will impact safety and impede aviation growth instead of facilitating it. It is critical to give due consideration to the larger global aviation community, keep open minds, collaborate with key stakeholders (ICAO, ANSPs, airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers), and remain committed to working together to develop solutions for a more sustainable future for aviation.