Some weeks ago I had an inspiring and thrilling meeting with Renata Zlopasa and Jan Brutsaert from EUROCONTROL. Renata stated an intriguing track of thought that stuck in my head. In essence she said, the ATCO and ATSEP job profiles will be progressively converging.

This idea stuck in my head. And the more I thought about it, the more I understood what Renata had in mind. Here are my thoughts.

The Evolution of the ATCO Job Profile

To increase effectiveness of the international airspace, EU's ATM-Masterplan and ICAO's Global Air Navigation Plan mandate ground-to-ground and ground-to-air interoperability with increased levels of automation. Many of the coordinational tasks which are now-a-days managed by ATCO will get progressively automated. Moving towards trajectory-optimization, AI will do a big chunk of the calculations. Just like in future scenarios of automotive connected mobility, the ATCO’s task-set will slowly migrate towards supervision and backup. 

Just imagine how control will work: Checking whether the systems are running properly, whether there are any alerts? The ATCO eventually needs to take-over in case of support-system failure. We could call this monitor and control.

The Evolution of the ATSEP Job Profile

The past ATSEP was equipped with screw-drivers, multimeters, spectrum analyzers and oscilloscopes. In times of interconnected systems and service oriented architectures, the ATSEP will (most probably) grow into scenarios of decentral monitoring, staged authorization and access, as well as system-guided escalation routines.

Intervention will rather be done through switching over from one system to a backup solution, then through physical activity. Repair or replacement could move towards manufacturers or the level 2 or 3 service providers.

This job profile also increasingly has a taste of system monitoring and control.

Yes, the viewpoints are different. The ATCO’s primary viewpoint is the optimal, undisturbed air traffic. The ATSEP’s primordial perspective is the uninterrupted and non degenerated system operation. 

But the eventual goal is the same: the safety of passengers and people on the ground, economical system operation and ecological optimization of energy consumption.

Open Standardized APIs Are A Prerequisite for the Transition

The evolution towards the job profiles drafted above is slowed down by a major architectural constraint: proprietary systems without standardized APIs (integration services), common data models and unified information. Manufacturing and (Petro-) Chemical Industry have long standardized the SCADA and DCS communication, driven by fierce competition and the resulting pursuit to improve efficiency and quality. 

ICAO's and EU’s masterplan also defined interfaces between the various players on a high level. The success of the deregulation in the European Banking system through the Payment Service Directive PSD2 has shown that increased efficiency, accelerated innovation, even an environment of co-innovation and coopetition can be created with a set of coarse granular legislation (regulation or directive) and the corresponding fine-granular technical standards.

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