Project Description

The IFATS project proposes to study a revolutionary concept for a future air transportation system by adding as much onboard automation and autonomy to the aircraft as necessary to fulfil the overall requirements of improved efficiency and safety of air transportation.

All the various air and ground components of the system communicate with one another through a network-centric architecture:

  • Aircraft fly autonomously pre-programmed flight plans using sophisticated onboard computing and sensor systems. Ground operators are responsible for the overall situation, whereabouts of aircraft and tracking of their intentions,
  • Functionalities of the system are flexibly distributed between the ground and aircraft, relying on intensive data communication capabilities between aircraft, and between aircraft and the network of ground stations.

Current pilots and controllers tasks are deeply modified as the elements of the system communicate digitally: pilots can be removed from the cockpit and controllers work is transformed into system monitoring actions. Additional features are added like direct assistance from the aircraft manufacturer for in flight aircraft diagnosis and remote maintenance.

IFATS Basics

The central goals of this project are:

  • to define a technically viable concept of an air transportation system where aircraft would be operating with a high degree of automation providing autonomy controlled and monitored by ground operators through a network-centric architecture;
  • to define autonomous operation procedures and optimise tasks sharing between the operators, the automated ground control system, the autonomous onboard computing systems and to identify any need for an onboard engineer;
  • to determine the minimum requirements and functionalities of the onboard system, to ensure safe operation in the case of communication loss with the ground control system;
  • to perform a safety analysis of the concept and to provide guidelines to certification issues;
  • to identify the difficulties to overcome to build such an Air Transport System, in both the technical and cultural aspects;
  • to find out an adequate level of automation for a future acceptable system;
  • to analyse a procedure to migrate from the present situation to this future system.

Technical approach

Driven by the assumption of an aircraft with a sophisticated level of autonomy, the necessary functionalities of the ground and onboard components of a future air transportation system can be isolated and analysed on their conceptual maturity.

This includes normal operations as well as critical flight situations or emergency cases.

Comparing the IFATS approach with the planned evolutionary improvements of the existing air transportation system will determine the main differences, advantages and weaknesses of IFATS vs. the existing system.

The comparison results could be used in one of the two directions:

  • the IFATS approach could be adopted as the long-term air transportation concept,
  • or IFATS ideas could be used to improve the current air traffic systems in the mid term perspective while using IFATS validated concepts.

Expected achievements/impact

Air transportation system concept definition and preliminary evaluation (comparison)

Video describing the main components and concepts of IFATS approach

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