Connected, Networked Aircraft and The Future of Air Traffic Management

Posted by Kerry Radigan on Dec 14, 2017 9:26:12 PM

SmartSky's resident NASA scientist, Dr. Bruce Holmes (Fellow of the RAeS and AIAA), spoke at the Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Simulation Conference in London on November 14, 2017. The following is an excerpt from Dr. Holmes' overview presentation titled "Connected, Networked Aircraft and The Future of Air Traffic Management" along with his reasons why this topic is important in aviation and three key takeaways.

Dr-Bruce-J-HolmesFor some time, we have been imagining continuous re-optimization of dynamically interacting, de-conflicted flight paths for achieving simultaneous benefits in both safety and efficiency. Our research communities have thought through the concept of a digital twin or “shadow system” for the airspace system, one that allows for fast-time modelling of future states of current traffic flows based on “what if” thinking about mitigation of risks and disruptions from weather or other factors. Such a vision would enable real-time optimization, whether for own-ship, own-fleet, or own-airspace, for safety as well as economic outcomes. The challenges to fulfilling such a vision include access to the requisite historic, current, and forecast data from all domains of aircraft, airports, airspace, atmosphere, and ATM. Such a vision might be built on the broad concept of the Internet of Things - That Fly, and require levels of digital connectivity, software hosting, and system-level modeling and simulation that we see emerging for 21st century aviation.

Why do you think this event topic is important for the industry?

The current growth forecasts for global air travel appear unsustainable from the standpoint of human workloads required to manage increases in future air traffic. Put simply, the demands of a human-centric air traffic management outstrip the cost and perhaps even availability of workforce to manage the growth. Add on the prospect of ten-fold or hundreds-fold growth in numbers of aircraft operations envisioned by innovators in UAS (Uncrewed Aerial Systems, Drones, or RPAs), electric-propelled urban air taxis, and regional aircraft of the future, and the challenges to air traffic management grow even more significantly. This RAeS event illuminates the state of the art in modeling and simulation for air traffic management advancements and introduces thinking about the roles of emerging technologies, including aircraft connectivity and software hosting systems that come to the aid of the aeronautics community in the near future.

What will be the 3 things delegates take away from your presentation?

(1) New levels of performance and cost in digital connectivity for aviation enable bandwidth abundance strategies and innovations.

(2) Moving aviation operations from today’s world of “off-line” to the future of “on-line” capabilities, through advancing connectivity solutions create the Internet of Things - That Fly.

(3) A new future is unfolding for airspace management, as well as cabin, flight deck and aircraft systems tools based on emerging Internet Protocol (IP) airborne capabilities.

In his prophetic book of 2000, Telecosm, the futurist George Gilder writes that while chips and software are important, it is not chip speed, but bandwidth which is the “most important economic factor of our time.”

The implications of Gilder’s forecast have profoundly changed the ways our connected devices work. In particular, the bandwidth revolution has hollowed out our computers and our mobile devices, making them portals to the Cloud and hosts for myriads of network-based social, professional, life-management tools, instead of simply being self-contained dumb nodes. This revolution has taken place almost everywhere … except in aviation. Now, it is our turn.

Learn More About Skytelligence

Connect with Dr. Bruce Holmes on LinkedIn or comment below to start a conversation.

Topics: Insider, Skytelligence


  1. the distance between successive crests of a wave, especially points in a sound wave or electromagnetic wave. 
  2. a person's ideas and way of thinking, especially as it affects their ability to communicate with others.

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