As China grapples with worsening air traffic congestion problems, Boeing and other major aerospace companies are playing an increasingly important role, not just by introducing new air traffic control technology, but also by helping to improve airspace management, says a senior Boeing executive.
China’s flight delay problems already are serious enough, particularly in the country’s large eastern hubs. However, the problem could be exacerbated by the rapid growth that is forecast for China’s domestic air services. “Proposed growth far exceeds the current air traffic control capacity,” says Neil Planzer, Boeing’s vice president for air traffic management (ATM).
One facet of the delay issue is political, particularly regarding the military control of a large proportion of domestic airspace. Civilian use of airspace “has expanded a bit, but not enough,” Planzer says. China has “got some real political problems [regarding congestion] in addition to technical air traffic control problems.”
Foreign aerospace companies obviously cannot help on the political side, notes Planzer. “But where the Western countries can help is in the development and the creation of a ‘next-generation’ phase” of ATM, to prepare for projected growth, he says. As with other countries, “you can’t wait for growth to occur, and then say ‘okay, we want to change the system.’ You need to anticipate it.”
One of the main ways Boeing has been helping lay the groundwork has been through running a series of classes for senior executives from China’s Air Traffic Management Bureau. One such course finished recently in Seattle, and more will follow, says Planzer.
Participants learn how to “develop and execute ATM concepts and principles” in a strategic way, Planzer says. This will help instill a “core capability” to understand what the Chinese system needs and to how to expand it. “We believe this is more important than [helping] design a particular piece of airspace.”
“China likes to be self-sufficient—they want to bring in all the information they can and develop an internal capability to execute. Sometimes they do it with [foreign] companies, sometimes on their own.”
This has led to China signing many cooperation and advisory agreements with Western companies, “but these are really only helping them out on the fringes,” says Planzer.