Air Traffic

Airspace management personnel organizes the airspace

Airspace management personnel organizes the airspace

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“Above the clouds, freedom must be without boundaries,” singer-songwriter Reinhard Mey muses in his popular song “Über den Wolken” (Above the clouds). At least in terms of flight safety, however, there are clear boundaries in airspace. In the allegedly boundless sky above Germany, space is usually much tighter than we would imagine when looking up from the ground.

Two cooperating soldiers at a computer.

Air Space Management Officer First Lieutenant David K. talking to Shift Director TOCTactical operation cell (Tactical Operations Center) PATF (Provincial Adversary Task Force) First Lieutenant Katrin P. at the Tactical Operations Center.

Bundeswehr/Andrea Bienert

An airliner in the sky is a common sight, and people have become used to see Eurofighter or Tornado aircraft at least in the vicinity of their respective air bases. But what remains invisible are the efforts required to ensure that every single flight movement can be carried out safely – in both civil and military aviation alike.

Unlike in more spacious regions of the world, a permanent separation of the airspace above Germany for civilian and military purposes is not feasible. Temporary restricted airspaces will be reserved for the military only for special exercises. The general rule is that the airspace is considered a continuum in which a “piece of the sky” can be allocated dynamically to the actors as required. And this complex task brings airspace management into play.

Best possible allocation

The persons involved in airspace management are responsible for planning and ensuring the best possible allocation of the airspace available. Their aim is to keep the impact of flight operations on the population to a minimum.

Airspace management will prove to be a challenge particularly during the Air Defender exercise from 12 to 23 June when some 200 military aircraft will be flying above Germany in addition to civilian air traffic. This will not be changed much by the fact that the flights will take place in three exercise airspaces specified for the two-week exercise in the northwest, northeast and south of Germany and, in large part, above the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and that these airspaces are virtually no-fly zones for civil aviation.

What facilitates the military capability to conduct operations in these airspaces places high demands on managing airspace outside the exercise areas: Outside the three designated sectors in particular, air traffic is likely to expand during the Air Defender exercise, although the Bundeswehr endeavors to keep the impact on the population and civil air traffic as low as possible.

Continuous assessments of the situation, coordination or even weather-related flexibility — airspace management personnel will be able to demonstrate these capabilities also during the exercise in June. Members of the German air navigation service provider (DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbHGesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung) and personnel of the Air Operations Command will work hand in hand to allocate the airspace as required for military and civilian purposes. In the 1990s, the Airspace Management Cell (AMC) co-operated by the Bundeswehr and DFS made Germany one of Europe’s pioneers of this form of requirements-oriented and scalable airspace coordination. The balanced process on the national level is interconnected with the processes of the European neighbors.

Free choice of routes instead of airways

This practice is based on a shift of paradigms in the past. Thinking and acting along the lines of airways — which were closed to civilian use on short notice in case of military demand — has been largely dismissed. Today, the airlines are able to choose routes on their own and thus shorten them, which in turn saves fuel costs and CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, the next challenge for airspace management is already on the horizon: self-propelled traffic carriers that fly autonomously and are digitally networked will determine traffic in the future. Even with these technologies being involved, air traffic must be efficient, environmentally friendly and, above all, safe.

by Rüdiger Franz

Air Defender 23

Multinational air operation exercise in Europe