skeyes and Defence jointly manage Belgian airspace

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On 2 December the air traffic controllers from Defence will permanently join their skeyes colleagues on the premises in Steenokkerzeel. By consolidating military and civil air traffic control, the Belgian airspace will be used even more efficiently, safely and ecologically.

The airspace above Belgium is limited in size and utmost complex because a lot of aircraft are using it. Besides its commercial – and to a lesser extent recreational – purpose, the airspace also has strategic importance for military operations and training. In order to guarantee the safety of all air traffic, the military airspace was maximised during those military duties, both in space and in time. Thanks to a closer collaboration between both air traffic control services on the same location they can much better align their operations. As soon as the military airspace is cleared, other aircraft can use it again.

Everybody wins

The synergy between skeyes and Defence was included in the government agreement. All users benefit from more efficient use of the airspace. Because air traffic volumes are on the rise, the airspace has become a scarce commodity that everyone wants to use as much as possible. skeyes – and Defence – want to meet the growing demand as far as possible, but their major concern always remains to ensure the safety of all air traffic.

This collaboration offers additional guarantees in this respect as well. Defence is certain that their pilots can at all times have an airspace reservation for their air operations. Military flight movements are different from civil air traffic in three dimensions.

Furthermore, efficiency gains also result in ecological gains: aircraft can fly shorter trajectories and use less fuel as a consequence. The latter is in its turn commercially more advantageous for airline companies. Those are all important assets in an international and competitive environment in which there is not only a battle for airspace, but also for air traffic control services.

Impact in many areas

22 military air traffic controllers from the ATCC will move into the skeyes CANAC2 air traffic control centre in Steenokkerzeel. They will be equipped with a separate working station in the operational room. The move from Semmerzake was preceded by a long and thorough preparation. However, Semmerzake will remain operational for security reasons.

Some infrastructural modifications were necessary to accommodate the new colleagues, but the operational system also underwent major changes to align the functioning. Defence uses SAS2 now. That is the same system as Eurocontrol, the third player in our country who manages air traffic at a higher altitude. In the meantime we are working on SAS3, a unified system for both skeyes, Defence and Eurocontrol. It should be finished by 2024.

Of course, the military’s arrival at the skeyes site also has an impact on their own situation and on all of the company’s activities. In order to prepare everyone for that, a roadmap has been developed, allowing the staff of both organisations to get acquainted with each other and with the different corporate cultures and working methods. The relationship and the collaboration between Defence and skeyes have always been excellent and the Belgian Supervisory Authority – Air Navigation Services (BSA-ANS) has also been involved from the beginning.

Belgian Federal Minister of Mobility François Bellot

During a ceremony held at the ground floor of the Brussels control tower, Belgian Federal Minister of Mobility François Bellot welcomed the move that was initiated under his government.

 

 

skeyes CEO Johan Decuyper

 

Johan Decuyper, skeyes CEO:

“skeyes and Defence have come a long way together. Our technical, operational and administrative services have gone the extra mile to make sure that we were able to welcome our military colleagues in Steenokkerzeel today. Furthermore, this has all been achieved without any impact on operational air traffic control during the whole process. The fact that we will be able to manage the Belgian airspace even better and more safely together in the future, is an extra advantage in the international race for airspace and air traffic control services.”

Major General Frederik Vansina, Commander Belgian Air Force

Major General Frederik Vansina, Commander Belgian Air Force:

“Civil air traffic above Belgium is growing steadily. Thanks to this synergy we can consolidate the needs of the Air force now and in the future. Other countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark have a similar synergy between their military and civil air traffic control. Now we will also be able to benefit from such a collaboration. That puts us in a stronger position in the international context, in which we will want to honour our military commitments. Our missions in the Belgian airspace are crucial for that. For this purpose we can keep performing our missions in optimal circumstances.”

Renaud Lorand, Chairman of the Board of skeyes

The Chairman of the Board of skeyes Renaud Lorand also took the floor to celebrate this historic event.

After the speeches, the command of the ATCC unit of the Belgian Air Force was handed over to Lieutenant Colonel Heylens in a colourful ceremony with music performed by the chapel of the Air Force.

At the end of the ceremony, a fly-by was carried out by four F-16 fighter jets of the Air Force (FA-89, FA-101, FA-121 & FA-22).

Next to the event, the trade unions of skeyes were at the entrance of the site, distributing flyers to the guests to express their dissatisfaction on many issues, one of which is the working conditions of air traffic controllers: there is a huge pay difference between military and civilian controllers. There are also staff shortages and the balance between professional and private life is uneasy.

A press conference before the ceremony tried to answer those difficulties. However, the controllers will keep their status: civilian for civil aircraft and military for military aircraft.

During that press conference, General Vansina also mentioned that the future F-35 will need much more airspace than the F-16, essentially because of its weapon system, but less often.

Text and pictures © André Orban

Eurocontrol has issued a release explaining clearly how the new arrangement will work

Civil and military air traffic control in Belgium now managed using a single air traffic management system

The Shared Air Traffic Services System 2 (SAS2) has been put into service by the Belgian Ministry of Defence. The Belgian military air traffic controllers and the civil air traffic controllers at EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) are now working with a single air traffic management (ATM) system, which is fully in line with Single European Sky (SES) objectives.

Air traffic control services in Belgian and Luxembourg airspace are provided by three independent organisations: the Belgian Ministry of Defence for military operational air traffic (OAT), and skeyes and MUAC for civil general air traffic (GAT) in lower and upper airspace (as the latter from 24,500 feet) respectively.

Until recently, each of these organisations worked with its own air traffic control system, managed independently of the other two organisations. With the commissioning of the SAS2 system by the Belgian Ministry of Defence on 2 December 2019, the Belgian Ministry of Defence and MUAC now work with the same system. The advantages of a shared ATS system are numerous for both organisations: better coordination between civil and military controllers at both ends, improved situational awareness and safety, better communication, economies of scale, system agreements, shared tools, and joint software/hardware upgrades, all of which will ultimately lead to better performance.

Following the signature of the cooperation agreement between the Ministry of Defence and MUAC in December 2016, the SAS2 system was fully developed over the last three years in order to integrate the required military air traffic control functionalities into MUAC’s existing air traffic control system.

The required hardware was installed at the skeyes site in Steenokkerzeel and at the airbases of Beauvechain, Kleine-Brogel, Koksijde and Florennes.

A first major step towards the commissioning of the SAS2 system was taken in March 2019 when the site acceptance test was successfully carried out. This confirmed that the SAS2 system could provide safe air traffic control services, both at the various military sites and at MUAC.

In addition, intensive training was provided for both the military air traffic controllers and the technicians on the use and maintenance of this new system.

In November 2019, shadow operations (off-line operations) took place, during which all actions carried out by the military air traffic controllers on the old ATS system (SEROS for ATCC and LATC for the airbases) were copied to the SAS2 system. Shadow operations confirmed that the SAS2 system contains all the functionalities required by the military air traffic controllers and was therefore ready to go live. At the close of the shadow operations, minor modifications were made to the SAS2 system and it was confirmed that the system was ready to be used for *limited[1] military air traffic control as from 2 December 2019. Ultimately, the SAS2 system will support all military air traffic control (final operational capability) by March 2020.

The commissioning of the SAS2 system by the Belgian Ministry of Defence coincides with the move of the military air traffic control centre to the skeyes site in Steenokkerzeel. In parallel, a study was launched by the Ministry of Defence, MUAC and skeyes to replace skeyes’ current air traffic control system with a shared ATS system – SAS3 – by 2025. This would allow the three organisations managing Belgian/Luxembourg airspace to use a single air traffic control system in order to achieve better cooperation in their services, thereby contributing to the Single European Sky (SES) objectives.

The Directorate General Material Resources can only confirm the benefits of this partnership,” said Lieutenant General Rudy Debaene. “Far beyond the economic benefits and those obtained by reducing the number of specialised military technicians, this cooperation represents a major step forward in the management of Belgian airspace. It is being done more efficiently and in a safer way by two of the three actors managing the airspace.”

John Santurbano, Director of MUAC, added: “The Shared ATS System is based on a proven Virtual Centre Concept developed and deployed by MUAC across various Royal Netherlands Air Force sites in 2013 and at the Slovenia Control Centre. The system is robust, and we have every confidence that our Belgian colleagues have made a good choice. As MUAC facilities are upgraded and/or developed to SESAR standards, the improvements will automatically flow to the Belgian military air defence sites served from MUAC, securing economies of scale through common development and maintenance resources.”

Major General Vansina, Commander of the Air Component, concluded: “Working together on the same system will facilitate coordination and communication, which will only benefit flight safety.

SAS2 is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), an EU funding instrument to promote growth, jobs and competitiveness through targeted infrastructure investment at European level. The CEF programme budget is implemented for the most part by the EU Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA).


[1] Limited military air traffic control means that the transition to the new ATC system imposes a number of restrictions on the number of MIL aircraft which can operate simultaneously in certain sectors. Restrictions are also imposed on the type of mission which can be flown. These restrictions will be systematically lifted in order to ensure a full ATC service using SAS2 by the end of March 2020 at the latest.

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