Who does remember ASAS – the Airborne Separation Assurance System? Yes, there was something some time ago, wasn’t it?…..
In times where TCAS was not yet a requirement on airplanes ASAS was already intensively discussed as the tool for airborne separation of airplanes, based on the ADS-B technology. Even a basic concept of operation was developed by the IATA/AEA Joint User Requirements Group (JURG). It allowed aircraft to fly in an airspace with safe separation from each other by exchanging data amongst them. This CONOPS is still in a drawer of some people involved at that time.
Around 2007 the NLR in Amsterdam used a B747-200 simulator equipped with ASAS software developed by the NLR.
In intensive test sessions pilots flew through three times the 2004 traffic density over core Europe without any command or intervention from a ground controller – and without any problem – smooth as silk. The demonstration showed the capabilities of such a system. The developed algorithms showed already significant maturity and so we included ASAS into our work for the first SESAR Master Plan in 2007.
But where is ASAS today? Why has this concept not been pursued? The usual answer you will receive is: safety concerns, technology issues. But the real reasons are certainly related to other factors, such as the human dimension and the necessary investment to make a proven experimental concept a certified aircraft system reality. EU-money was there – enough. Why was it not used to further develop ASAS?
Airlines are carrying so much computer technology already in their planes with fantastic reliability. Artificial Intelligence is now also available. Is it not time that industry goes a step further and has the courage to do that what was planned in 2008 to be reality by 2020 to allow Europe to be a leader in Air Traffic Management and flight safety? With the discussions on sustainable air transport in the context of a society evolution under environmental and social requirements, ASAS must be considered as a vital contributor to the future ATM system. It will release capacity of air traffic control on the ground and help to cope with increased traffic and limited sector/ATCO capacity. It is high time to act!