What do Australia and Bolivia have in common, other than being at the top of any alphabetical list of the countries in the world?
They each have some of the world’s most challenging air traffic control environments, and each has turned toward Thales to provide them with their latest air traffic management solution. At stake for both: efficiently mastering their sovereign airspace with a single system to manage both military and civil airspace, at a time of significant growth of air traffic of all kinds.
OneSKY, mastering complexity at large scale
In the case of Australia, the challenges are immense —in terms of both airspace and traffic. The system has to cover no less than 11 % of the Earth’s surface, over and around the continent into the Pacific Ocean region. That means four million flights carrying 150 million passengers a year, increasing annually by an average of 4% over the next fifteen years.
“Airservices Australia has to manage the single biggest airspace in the world, covering 53 million square kilometres and including some of the busiest flight corridors anywhere in the world, such as Sydney to Melbourne, with over 54,000 flights a year,” says Markus Fritz, Vice President, Thales Airspace Mobility Solutions Australia and Asia Pacific Region.
“They chose Thales because they knew that, as the world leader in Air Traffic Management, we are the best placed partner to deliver a highly complex system of such a scale, integrating the management of both civil and military airspace into one single system," says Markus Fritz, Vice President, Thales Airspace Mobility Solutions Australia and Asia Pacific Region.
Indeed, Thales is making the skies safe and efficient in more than seventy countries, meaning that two out of every three planes take off or land, thanks to Thales solutions.
Sixteen networked sites make up the Australian OneSKY system, which has been designed to safely manage the increasing air travel in Australia and the region and the growing usage of airspace for both civil and military purposes, as well as integrating a variety of new types of aircraft.
“It is by far the world’s most advanced and integrated ATM system,” Markus Fritz says. “One key challenge is to upgrade an ageing system devised for military aviation, integrate it seamlessly and without interruption into a civil aviation network. Another challenge is the sheer size of the project, and the size of the airspace to be managed. Developing the software alone, involves writing six million lines of code.”
Assuring airspace mastery from mountaintop to jungle
In the case of Bolivia, the challenge was to create an integrated ATM system for the first time, and to ensure coverage of the whole country, for both civil and military purposes.
Bolivia’s existing air defence and air traffic control infrastructures dated back several decades. They were struggling to keep up with the growth in commercial air traffic, as well as the emergence of new threats including light aircraft flying incognito through Bolivian airspace and, more recently, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
A significant challenge was the remote radar installations that had to be built in tropical zones and at very high altitudes. It was particularly complicated, for example, to install the first secondary surveillance radar at El Alto airport in La Paz, which sits at an altitude of over 4,000 metres.
Those unique challenges had to be met to assure the country’s mastery over its sovereign airspace for the first time, a strategic objective for Bolivia.
“Mastering the airspace for Bolivia, for both military and civil aviation, is a strategic national objective for at least three reasons,” says Izold-Clelia Mamier,Project Manager at Thales, part of the SIDACTA (Sistema Integrado de Defensa Aérea y Control de Tránsito Aéreo) team .
“First, it avoids dependence on other countries for airspace management that is so crucial to national security and public safety. Second, it will contribute to economic growth by encouraging new airlines and increased tourism, both domestic and international. And, third, it will be possible to monitor all domestic flights as well as detect illegal aircraft that could be used for drug traffic for instance.”
System integration: the key to ATM
Bolivia selected Thales because of its leadership in both seamless system integration and radar technologies. The total contract not only calls for the supply of thirteen radars that will form the backbone of the country’s aerial surveillance infrastructure; it also entrusts Thales with integrating and managing the entire system for operations, as well as the communications for the new equipment distributed across the country, from 4,900 metres in altitude to deep in the Amazonian jungle.
Three years ago then Bolivian Defence Minister Reymi Ferreira said Thales was the only company able to provide the equipment, install it and plan a system for Bolivia’s air space combining both civil and military capabilities, including the on-site construction that would be needed in extreme settings.
Gilles Thevenet, Director of Turnkey projects at Thales, puts it this way: “System integration is what sets us apart. It is really in our DNA. Not only do we have the technologies and continually-evolving systems based on them, but we have demonstrated our capacity to integrate them all whatever the country’s complexities.”