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Why blockchain is important to ATM

Airspace Article

This flowchart (left) provides a general rule-of-thumb to determine if blockchain is a practical solution based on the applied use-cases, and offers a suggested type of blockchain that may be most suitable. It is important to note that this flowchart conveys decisions from a high-level perspective, and additional considerations and concerns may come into play for different scenarios. To gain a general sense of when a blockchain may be beneficial, and the type of blockchain that would most appropriately suffice for the mission need.

How to choose your Blockchain

Airspace Article

Of course, it is a complicated concept and implementing blockchain won’t be easy. Attracting the right skillset to ATM is just the beginning. Using blockchain for sharing flight data across borders would involve negotiating the ICAO standards process, for example. And some suppliers – and their air navigation service provider (ANSP) customers – have spent considerable time and money on other solutions, making blockchain solutions less likely.

Government regulations are another stumbling block. Some countries have banned cryptocurrencies so it would be difficult to gain approval for sharing flight data with essentially the same technology.

Topping off all this is the still novel nature of the technology. In a risk-averse industry with a proud record in safety, trust in an innovative and complicated concept will not come naturally.

Nevertheless, blockchain has been proven to work in aviation. SITA’s FlightChain protocol enables airlines, airports, air traffic control and airport ecosystem partners to achieve consensus, by providing a single source of truth on flight data on a distributed network. SITA has demonstrated the solution benefits with IAG, Heathrow Airport, Geneva Airport, Miami Airport, Beijing Capital Airport, Shanghai Airport, Air China, and China Eastern.

“Blockchain is a technology that can finally allow traditional aviation operators to exploit the internet and benefit from better resilience and lower costs – costs that can ultimately be passed on as savings for passengers and consumers – as well as welcoming new pioneers to the skies,” concludes the whitepaper.

“Blockchain is therefore a great opportunity for aviation and ATM to rethink their information systems. A trusted real-time distribution of ATM-related information can pave the way for efficiency and rationalisation with the possibility of far-reaching automation and transition to the digital era of ATM.”


Challenges for blockchain

A multitude of industries are using blockchain and surveys indicate that most organisations are moving towards the technology to stay competitive.

Blockchain is best known for being used for payment and other financial trades as it creates a tamper-proof log of activity. But it is just as applicable to, for example, supply chain management. Blockchain’s immutable ledger helps with the real-time tracking of goods as they move and change hands throughout the supply chain. It is even being used in media and the arts by securing intellectual property.

ATM can make use of it in several ways. In essence, blockchain creates scalable, trusted networks. So much of future ATM – system-wide information management, for example – depends on information sharing that blockchain could prove invaluable. It provides a safe, secure system for high volumes of data exchange.

Consider new airspace entrants, such as drones, urban mobility vehicles and commercial space flights. Each has distinct operating capabilities that don’t easily integrate with the controlled architecture designed for conventional aircraft movements. Blockchain could be leveraged for a more efficient and streamlined approach to exchanging information and adhering to established protocols, without the need for extensive human interaction.

Airspace design and flight planning is another area that could take advantage of blockchain’s qualities. Trajectory-based operations need accurate, real-time information. But this has been difficult to obtain across borders because of the lack of agreed protocols and communication standards.

“Blockchain would assure airspace users accessing the data that the ledger is complete and accurate, leading to improved operational efficiency and support for dispute resolution,” notes the Blockchain whitepaper. “The blockchain would also remove the need for a centralised authority and would not require each of the participating stakeholders to trust one another.”

Further benefits are unleashed when the technology is deployed in conjunction with other cutting-edge technologies. For example, the combination of distributed ledgers with artificial intelligence and smart contracts will ensure that operational decisions made by machines will be safe, logical and transparent. This in turn promotes automation, as pulling data from a common network can avoid issues of conflicting or missing data. Users and programmers will trust a rigorous governance process where traceability, training and competence records extend into the autonomy software as well as the licensed human operators.

How can it be used in ATM?

The latest whitepaper in CANSO’s Emerging Technologies series explores blockchain and its potential applications in future air traffic management (ATM).

In essence, blockchain is a secure way of storing and sharing information such that it is impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system.

It is often referred to as a distributed digital ledger. Information is verified, deposited and shared in a peer-to-peer network. Every person or business – known as a node – has their own copy of the ledger (or data) and validates updates or makes new entries through agreed protocols. At any point in time, every node has an identical ledger – every update is replicated throughout the blockchain.

The technology only allows information to be added so there is always a record of previous transactions in chronological order. And it’s all but impossible to write a false transaction block – thanks to what are known as consensus mechanisms – or change a transaction retrospectively.

To give an example: every Bitcoin transaction since 2008 is recorded in chronological sequence. The transactions are also linked cryptographically through a digital fingerprint. So, changing just one transaction for malicious intent would mean changing every transaction. No single actor is known to have that much computing power.

Why is this different? First, blockchain replaces the idea of a central database and so takes away the cost and management of such a depository. Also, once written, the data is immutable. You cannot change it. And because everything is decentralized, there is no need for acquired trust. In other words, you don’t need to know the other organizations in your blockchain. Trust is an inherent part of the technology.

What is it?

Everybody has heard of blockchain – usually in connection with cryptocurrencies. But few understand what it does and the potential it has to transform business practices.

Blockchain can herald a new era of digital air traffic management but it is a complicated technology.

Why blockchain is important to ATM

Airspace Article

This flowchart (left) provides a general rule-of-thumb to determine if blockchain is a practical solution based on the applied use-cases, and offers a suggested type of blockchain that may be most suitable. It is important to note that this flowchart conveys decisions from a high-level perspective, and additional considerations and concerns may come into play for different scenarios. To gain a general sense of when a blockchain may be beneficial, and the type of blockchain that would most appropriately suffice for the mission need.

How to choose your Blockchain

Airspace Article

Of course, it is a complicated concept and implementing blockchain won’t be easy. Attracting the right skillset to ATM is just the beginning. Using blockchain for sharing flight data across borders would involve negotiating the ICAO standards process, for example. And some suppliers – and their air navigation service provider (ANSP) customers – have spent considerable time and money on other solutions, making blockchain solutions less likely.

Government regulations are another stumbling block. Some countries have banned cryptocurrencies so it would be difficult to gain approval for sharing flight data with essentially the same technology.

Topping off all this is the still novel nature of the technology. In a risk-averse industry with a proud record in safety, trust in an innovative and complicated concept will not come naturally.

Nevertheless, blockchain has been proven to work in aviation. SITA’s FlightChain protocol enables airlines, airports, air traffic control and airport ecosystem partners to achieve consensus, by providing a single source of truth on flight data on a distributed network. SITA has demonstrated the solution benefits with IAG, Heathrow Airport, Geneva Airport, Miami Airport, Beijing Capital Airport, Shanghai Airport, Air China, and China Eastern.

“Blockchain is a technology that can finally allow traditional aviation operators to exploit the internet and benefit from better resilience and lower costs – costs that can ultimately be passed on as savings for passengers and consumers – as well as welcoming new pioneers to the skies,” concludes the whitepaper.

“Blockchain is therefore a great opportunity for aviation and ATM to rethink their information systems. A trusted real-time distribution of ATM-related information can pave the way for efficiency and rationalisation with the possibility of far-reaching automation and transition to the digital era of ATM.”


Challenges for blockchain

Making interfaces available through SWIM facilitates the exchange of data and enables the automation of processes. It is an information-centric approach that leads to better service at lower cost. Moreover, the wide use of big data triggers innovation – especially in safety – and offers additional non-safety critical revenue opportunities.

The whitepaper additionally points out that SWIM benefits others besides ANSPs. It allows non-traditional players to enter the market contributing to the creation of jobs, for example.

A multitude of industries are using blockchain and surveys indicate that most organisations are moving towards the technology to stay competitive.

Blockchain is best known for being used for payment and other financial trades as it creates a tamper-proof log of activity. But it is just as applicable to, for example, supply chain management. Blockchain’s immutable ledger helps with the real-time tracking of goods as they move and change hands throughout the supply chain. It is even being used in media and the arts by securing intellectual property.

ATM can make use of it in several ways. In essence, blockchain creates scalable, trusted networks. So much of future ATM – system-wide information management, for example – depends on information sharing that blockchain could prove invaluable. It provides a safe, secure system for high volumes of data exchange.

Consider new airspace entrants, such as drones, urban mobility vehicles and commercial space flights. Each has distinct operating capabilities that don’t easily integrate with the controlled architecture designed for conventional aircraft movements. Blockchain could be leveraged for a more efficient and streamlined approach to exchanging information and adhering to established protocols, without the need for extensive human interaction.

Airspace design and flight planning is another area that could take advantage of blockchain’s qualities. Trajectory-based operations need accurate, real-time information. But this has been difficult to obtain across borders because of the lack of agreed protocols and communication standards.

“Blockchain would assure airspace users accessing the data that the ledger is complete and accurate, leading to improved operational efficiency and support for dispute resolution,” notes the Blockchain whitepaper. “The blockchain would also remove the need for a centralised authority and would not require each of the participating stakeholders to trust one another.”

Further benefits are unleashed when the technology is deployed in conjunction with other cutting-edge technologies. For example, the combination of distributed ledgers with artificial intelligence and smart contracts will ensure that operational decisions made by machines will be safe, logical and transparent. This in turn promotes automation, as pulling data from a common network can avoid issues of conflicting or missing data. Users and programmers will trust a rigorous governance process where traceability, training and competence records extend into the autonomy software as well as the licensed human operators.

How can it be used in ATM?

Everybody has heard of blockchain – usually in connection with cryptocurrencies. But few understand what it does and the potential it has to transform business practices.

The latest whitepaper in CANSO’s Emerging Technologies series explores blockchain and its potential applications in future air traffic management (ATM).

In essence, blockchain is a secure way of storing and sharing information such that it is impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system.

It is often referred to as a distributed digital ledger. Information is verified, deposited and shared in a peer-to-peer network. Every person or business – known as a node – has their own copy of the ledger (or data) and validates updates or makes new entries through agreed protocols. At any point in time, every node has an identical ledger – every update is replicated throughout the blockchain.

The technology only allows information to be added so there is always a record of previous transactions in chronological order. And it’s all but impossible to write a false transaction block – thanks to what are known as consensus mechanisms – or change a transaction retrospectively.

To give an example: every Bitcoin transaction since 2008 is recorded in chronological sequence. The transactions are also linked cryptographically through a digital fingerprint. So, changing just one transaction for malicious intent would mean changing every transaction. No single actor is known to have that much computing power.

Why is this different? First, blockchain replaces the idea of a central database and so takes away the cost and management of such a depository. Also, once written, the data is immutable. You cannot change it. And because everything is decentralized, there is no need for acquired trust. In other words, you don’t need to know the other organizations in your blockchain. Trust is an inherent part of the technology.

What is it?

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