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Air operations, Expert view

It’s time to throw SWIM a life raft

December 21, 2021

Alex Brooker, Senior Director of Strategy at Cirium, explores the issues blocking the adoption of SWIM by ANSPs and the critical need for digital transformation and collaboration to accelerate change.

By Alex Brooker, Senior Director of Strategy at Cirium

To the uninitiated, System Wide Information Management (SWIM) is a global Air Traffic Management (ATM) industry initiative to harmonize the exchange of aeronautical, weather and flight information for airspace users such as airlines, airports, and other key stakeholders.

Where implemented, SWIM is essential to providing the most efficient and safe use of airspace, managing air traffic around weather and increasing common situational awareness on the ground. Through effective exchange of flight-related information, airspace users and controllers have access to the most up-to-date information that may be affecting their area of responsibility in real-time.

For a more in depth overview of SWIM and to read a recent case study, check out the following article: SWIM in Action – Making sense of SWIM data as part of a transformational strategy to improve operations

SWIM means different things to different people across the world of aviation, but the one question we’re all asking in chorus is why is an initiative that started 20 years ago still so far from hitting its original goals? What are the issues and how can we seek to address the challenges?

I recently led the CANSO Strategic Technology Working Group Experts team to produce CANSO’s latest whitepaper for SWIM, which provides a deep dive into the latest research and development, maturity levels and progress by region.

Cirium’s primary objective was to focus on the lessons learned from implementation initiatives to date, and to present recommendations based on those learnings, sometimes painful in nature, that ANSPs may find useful when analyzing the tangible return on a project that needs SWIM to succeed.

The report explores the topic in granular detail, yet the answer to the ‘why is progress so agonizingly slow?’ conundrum is paradoxically very simple.

The successful implementation of SWIM depends upon a significant tech investment, where some of the benefits are intangible and are not distributed equally among aviation stakeholders, making the return on investment tricky to quantify.

How can we as an industry orchestrate all the complex moving parts, and support the CANSO members to pull this off, when global stakeholder collaboration is inconsistent?

​​At Cirium, our team of aviation industry experts and data scientists have been working hard to champion change for more than a decade. We have quality data and we’ve created solutions for ANSPs designed to deliver the digital transformation we know can make this initiative truly fly.

In addition, SWIM can also offer added value to airlines in the following three key areas:

  1. Sustainability: In order for airlines to choose the most efficient routes, avoiding restricted airspace and severe weather patterns that would use up unnecessary fuel, they need information and data. SWIM can easily harmonize the exchange of information, allowing airlines to save fuel and reduce their carbon footprint. As a laser focus is applied to the aviation industry and its journey to lower emissions, the use of SWIM data supports and proves airlines’ commitment to a greener future.
  2. Drones and UTM: As technology evolves and UTMs grow in popularity, SWIM is able to ensure all the necessary ATM data is available to allow for safe drone flight management. From planning flights to understanding restrictions, SWIM will help UTMs harmoniously enter the airspace, transforming operations in the sky.
  3. Airline operations: It’s imperative for airline operations to run smoothly. Although data can be accessed from air traffic control organizations, it is hard to comprehend and translate this into workable solutions. However, with SWIM used in combination with Cirium’s other ground-breaking products, we are able to simplify the data and tailor it to clearly address the needs of airline operations teams.

Despite the multiple benefits offered by SWIM, the ongoing reliance on legacy systems and operational and data silos continues to thwart real progress across the sector. In order to move forward as an aligned industry, we must commit to the following:

3 ways to accelerate change

  1. Work together
    We need to see collaboration between industry, ANSPs, airlines and airports in order to unlock data silos and provide them with seamless rapid access to the data that is at the heart of every ANSP. This will enable ANSPs to realise the real value of data exchange: enhanced operational efficiency and the power of collaborative decision making. 
  2. Start small with clear governance
    Small projects with in-house experts can yield early benefits, using modern software development techniques and an agile approach to development, acceptance, and adoption. SWIM Governance is a vital enabler and does not have to be a complex investment.
  3. Keep it simple
    There are examples from both large and small ANSPs showing the successful combination of people, data, technology, and process to enable a positive operational change for all stakeholders and airspace users.

But time is of the essence. With new entrants to the aviation community, such as the aforementioned UTMs, Remotely Piloted Aviation Systems (RPAS), and those operating above FL600+, SWIM must adapt and enable problem solving at a pace faster than has been seen thus far, in order to avoid the picture becoming more confusing and incoherent. We must not allow SWIM to become decoupled from new entrants and airspace users who develop independent community standards and delay a vision for global, fully integrated traffic management.

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