ATM as we know it is based on the fact that aircraft can operate all over the world under unified procedures using standardized onboard and ground systems which, in combination, ensure interoperability.
Interoperability. Not a vain word, and even less innocent when you apply it to aeronautical systems. Our global ATM is based upon interoperability, with ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, being the overarching institution ensuring that regional developments are consistent with each other.
Until now, this task was complicated and usually focused on one or two topics per R&D program. We are currently experiencing a very unique situation where two huge programs have been launched in Europe and the United States aiming at bringing the existing Air Traffic Management concept into the 21st century.
Both SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) and NEXTGEN strive to implement new concepts. These include 4D Trajectory (3D geographical + time) and System-Wide Information Management (SWIM), which will enable all airspace users to share information in real time to develop Collaborative Decision Making and nurture a safer, greener, more cost-efficient ATM. Obviously, without interoperability, all the benefits you could expect from these would simply evaporate.
Now the question is, will we have fully interoperable US and European ATM or with some level of compatibility and gateways to mitigate wherever required? And what about more local initiatives such as in China where Air Transport is experiencing a huge transformation?
The question remains open, but definitely we should all support ICAO efforts to eventually get the ATM we dream of: safer, cleaner… and interoperable!