Information is a little bit like air; it is invisible. One cannot see it or touch it, but without air, one cannot live, or, as in the case of information, one cannot make decisions. Decision-making involves collecting information, analyzing information, and putting it into context in order to be able to make decisions. Flight operations involve a constant sequence of well-informed decisions. Very often, these decisions and the actions that stem from them are safety critical. As a consequence, bad information can lead to bad decisions, and bad decisions always compromise aviation safety. It is as simple as that.
Annex 15 – Aeronautical Information Services states that aeronautical information must be kept up-to-date. The timeliness of information is one of the key quality criteria for the provision of aeronautical information. AIS employs different update mechanisms to keep the information current, namely:
- Aeronautical information publication (AIP) amendments
- AIP supplements
- A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM)
- Aeronautical information circulars (AIC)
Operationally significant information
Not all information is created equal. Some information is considered operationally significant, as spelled out in Annex 15. The annex states that whenever we are dealing with operationally significant information and the changes thereof, implementation dates shall be based on AIRAC effective dates. This ensures that all stakeholders within the air traffic management system are in sync, and allows for sufficient time for the processing of the information. The AIRAC cycle allows for proper planning and workload balancing across the aeronautical data chain. It also permits flight crews and other personnel concerned with flight operations to prepare for and, if needed, train for the new situation described by the information. It is imperative for the dissemination of operationally significant information to strictly adhere to the AIRAC cycle.
Increasingly, aeronautical information is being provided digitally using AIS automation systems. Traditional aeronautical information products, like the aeronautical information publication (AlP), are partially being replaced by digital data sets. Annex 15 lists the first digital data sets for the provision of aeronautical information in digital format. They are:
- AlP data set;
- Terrain and obstacle data sets;
- Aerodrome mapping data sets; and
- Instrument flight procedure data
Collectively, these digital data sets are at the forefront of the digital transformation from product-centric AIS to a data-centric aeronautical information management (AIM). In the future, it is envisioned for these data sets of aeronautical information to be exchanged across the entire ATM system via system-wide information management (SWIM), a network-centric approach to information exchange.
As we transition from AIS to AIM, ensuring the quality of aeronautical information becomes ever more critical. Implementing an effective quality management system covering all aspects of aeronautical information services is the means to ensure that our AIS automation systems produce high-quality information. Without stringent quality assurance and control processes, automation systems run the risk of producing aeronautical information according to the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out”.
The Aeronautical Information Services Manual (Doc 8126) provides guidance on legacy AIS processes as well as on AIM practices to target specific audiences (AIS/AIM operational personnel, management bodies and regulatory authorities).
The digital transformation of AIS cannot be successful without the assurance that the aeronautical information we provide is fit for its intended use. Flight crews and other operational personnel around the world place their trust into our aeronautical information, and that trust has to be earned every single day.
We have two training courses that address the quality, collection, processing and distribution of aeronautical data and information, helping operational staff to better understand aeronautical information management in the ATM network. The focus of Data-Centric Aeronautical Information System Operations is a five-day course that covers the transition from product-oriented AIS to data-centric AIM, and on reducing the timeframe required to achieve compliance with new AIM requirements. Aeronautical Information Quality Management is a two-day course that provides air navigation managers with the competencies to transition from a product-centric to a data-centric approach for aeronautical information services, supporting the digitization of the aeronautical data chain.
On 12 October 2023, we will be hosting an information session on ICAO TV where experts will share their insight on this programme and explain how these two courses will benefit participants in their day-to-day jobs. To register for this free webinar, click here.
About the author
Dr. Alexander Pufahl is Technical Officer, Information Management at ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau, and Secretary of the working group dedicated to aeronautical information management (WG-A).
His past assignments include serving as technical expert AIS/AIM in the Middle East under ICAO’s technical cooperation programme and he was the author of the original AIM operational concept. He has extensive aviation industry experience, ranging from start-ups to international corporations. In addition, he holds a commercial pilot license with type rating in the Boeing 737, as well as several flight and ground instructor licenses.