The 2018 ATCA Annual Conference and Exposition: Overlap in Commercial and Military ATC Trends


This week, the 2018 ATCA Annual Conference and Exposition is taking place in National Harbor, MD, bringing together more than 3,000 air traffic management (ATM) experts ready to explore the current state and future developments of the air traffic control (ATC) industry. While the event is focused on the commercial airspace’s ATC developments and trends, there’s something to be said about how concerns from commercial ATM thought leaders overlap with those in military and defense.

Peter Dumont, President and CEO of ATCA, delivering opening remarks at the 2018 ATCA Annual Conference and Exposition on October 1, 2018.

Similar to last year’s show, new entrants like unmanned aerial systems (UASs) in the airspace remain a top concern for the ATC industry and, given that ultimately the military and commercial aviation companies share the same airspace, that concern clearly carries over to the military side of business as well. Our sister publication, Connected Aviation Today, recently spoke with Peter F. Dumont, President and CEO of ATCA, about what is predicted to be covered this week at the show and how the industry is adapting to new hurdles. Here’s what he had to say about how ATM is rapidly evolving, particularly how it’s adapting to increasing UASs in the airspace:

What are some of the key themes for this year’s ATCA Annual Conference and Exhibition?

ATCA Annual
Peter F. Dumont, President and CEO of ATCA

Peter Dumont (PD): We have three tracks this year: Innovation, Integration, and Policy. Each track offers a different perspective on the future of air traffic management (ATM). It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite panel. We strive to make them all relevant, informative, and thought leading. The first panel, Blue Skies: Beyond NextGen, sets the direction for the entire conference. I particularly enjoy fireside chats with the FAA leaders, but most of all, I enjoy the awards banquets ATCA holds to recognize excellence in our industry.

What’s next on the horizon for the FAA NextGen modernization program?

PD: Many of our members – including me – believe that we are ready for the next conversation about air traffic control.  New entrants, including unmanned aerial systems (UASs) and commercial space, and the growing realization that autonomous passenger flights will populate our national airspace make it imperative that we start developing what our next air traffic modernization effort looks like.

In fact, maybe we should not even use the term “air traffic modernization effort” because we will undoubtedly modify the way we provide future air traffic services.  New entrants will use the airspace differently and therefore will need alternative services.

For instance, some UASs will fly in low altitude airspace and self-separate; some UASs will use very high altitudes; and some will not fly point-to-point but in a zigzag pattern for observation.  The size, altitudes, and flight patterns of UASs will alter the type of air traffic services they need.

Commercial space will need vertical shafts of space equivalent to their calculated flight path and their possible alternative path in the event of a catastrophic launch.  Autonomous air taxis in a future with urban flight mobility options will need even more specified air traffic services.  The future needs for air traffic services are varied and the requirements will continue to develop as the new entrant technology rapidly evolves.

We have all been saying things like “What is the next NextGen?” or “NextGen will never be completed because that is not how modernization works anymore.”  It is time to discuss the future of air traffic management in a new way, not just because we are moving beyond NextGen, but because we are also seeing new entrant demands on the system, and the private sector bringing a sense of urgency to support these new commercial opportunities.  The rules of air traffic management from “see and be seen,” to new technology, to how users pay for the air traffic system should be up for discussion.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re hearing from industry leaders?

PD: One of the biggest challenges is new entrants, specifically drones. I have repeatedly said and written that the integration of drones into the national airspace system (NAS) is the single most difficult effort we have ever seen. It is not just bigger and faster aircraft than we have seen in the past, it is integrating a vehicle without an on-board pilot into an airspace system that was designed for pilots on-board.

But there are many other challenges to both industry and government. More and more the solutions for one are the solutions for the other. We are seeing a trend toward more collaboration between government and industry to find solutions to the many challenges facing the aviation industry today.

You can read the entire conversation on Connected Aviation Today here.

We look forward to seeing what the rest of the 2018 ATCA Annual brings to light this year. You can follow updates from the show on Twitter via #ATCA63.