Air Traffic Management, integrated technologies for safety and sustainability

04 June 2024

To support the current and future needs of passengers and airport operators all over the world: this is the objective of the ATM (Air Traffic Management) solutions and technologies that Leonardo designs, develops, integrates, and distributes worldwide to ensure the efficient and safe management of civilian air traffic. 

The civilian aviation market is extremely complex, dynamic, and competitive. Numerous variables shape its evolution, both in commercial and technological terms: the gradual increase in air traffic, which is expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels (with passenger numbers doubling by 2042); the rapid evolution of technologies, which implies the introduction of extensive digitalisation and the appearance on the stage of new actors, such as uncrewed systems, and the related UTM (Uncrewed Traffic Management) systems; and, last but not least, the need to reduce carbon emissions associated with air traffic management, in line with the EU’s established aim to be climate-neutral by 2050.

Sources: IATA (International Air Transport Association) – Data estimated at the end of 2024
Allied Market Research: commercial drone market statistics 2030

Leonardo’s technologies for air traffic management

In this scenario, there is a growing need for safe and efficient air mobility, which integrates manned and uncrewed aircraft management and ensures safe operation, efficient services, and environmental sustainability. To meet these requirements, Leonardo offers a number of solutions for air traffic management that ensure control in all flight phases and in the management of ground operations.

These solutions include integrated systems for air traffic surveillance that improve situational awareness by delivering air traffic-related images and data from aircraft; control centres that meet the strictest international requirements and increase process efficiency through advanced human-machine interfaces, with high levels of automation and interoperability; and redundant communication systems that can be integrated with multiple communication networks, supporting traffic controllers and operators in coordinating communication devices and networks, allowing the optimal management of airline hubs.


Radar ATCR33S – Brindisi Airport

What are these technologies for and how do they work?

Primary, departure/arrival and terminal manoeuvring area surveillance radars detect the presence of an aircraft in a specific area by transmitting an electromagnetic signal through an antenna and assessing the wave reflected by the aircraft itself. The energy reflected by the target is displayed on a screen as a luminous trace, which is used to identify the target’s size, position, and speed. The advantage of this type of radar is that it can work even if the detected aircraft do not cooperate.

Secondary surveillance radars, which are used to identify cooperating targets, generate an interrogation signal, which the transponder in the aircraft that needs to be identified replies to by sending a specifically coded signal as an answer. The aircraft is displayed on the screen as an electronic symbol; the alphanumeric label associated with it contains the information received from the aircraft’s device, such as altitude, position, identity.

ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) systems allow aircraft monitoring thanks to the periodical transmission via VHF of the aircraft’s position. Ground stations receive information on altitude, speed, and position from the aircraft’s GPS, allowing air traffic controllers to “see” in real time the cooperating aircraft in the monitored space.

Multilateration systems locate an aircraft using an algorithm based on the TDOA (Time Difference Of Arrival) of the signal emitted by the aircraft and received by sensors on the ground, monitoring inbound and outbound traffic or traffic over an extended area, where traditional radars are not enough to control flight traffic.

Weather radars detect the presence of precipitation (rain, snow, hail) through a transmitter that emits an electromagnetic signal, a receiver that processes the return signal (qualifying the type of precipitation) and an antenna that acts as an interface between the systems and the atmosphere, with the task of focusing the transmitted beam and intercepting the returning beam. These radars are used in operational radar meteorology, hydrology, aviation and in the search for the accurate detection and tracking of thunderstorms, wind shear and other severe weather conditions.

Air traffic control centres that use the LeadInSky architecture ensure ground control and verification of aircraft flight paths through main operational solutions and back-up, disaster recovery, simulation and training operational solutions. Thanks to interoperable, modular, and interconnected systems, enabled via standardised HMI (Human Machine Interfaces), they comply with the requirements of national air service providers all over the world in terms of safety, reliability and continuity of operation.

2023 Leonardo figures

LeadInSky, the ATM platform for safe and sustainable air traffic

LeadInSky has all the ATM requirements for flight path, inbound phase, terminal area, and airport scenarios. Its flexible and modular architecture means its design can be specifically tailored to different users and types of environments, ranging from small airports or inbound control units to large, national ATM systems with connected and integrated control towers.

LeadInSky demo room – Rome Tiburtina site

LeadInSky uses cutting edge ATM technologies such as modular hardware supported by commercial and open-source computers and operational centres based on virtualised architecture. It meets the requirements related to Safety, Security and Human Factors. The system complies with the Aviation System Block Upgrades of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), which promotes, among member states, the creation and adoption of international rules and agreements related to aviation, freight and passenger transport, and air transport security with the aim of improving its flight capacities according to specific operational requirements; to Eurocontrol standards (whose aim is to ensure air traffic control at European level). Furthermore, LeadInSky can integrate innovations from SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research), the European research and development programme for the implementation of the Single European Sky.


LeadInSky Operational room of the ATC centre in Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

Artificial intelligence, big data analysis, machine learning and augmented reality are some of the enabling factors of Leonardo’s LeadInSky technology, which make it possible to achieve high optimisation of data processing and of trajectory calculation, which in turn make supporting tools more efficient.

This applies to the time-based separation (TBS) procedure, which consists in separating sequential aircraft in the runway-approaching phase, using time intervals instead of distances. TBS guarantees air controllers receive information equivalent to the distance-based information, taking into account the conditions of winds and wake turbulence and improving the creation of the landing and take-off sequence, with clear advantages in terms of timeliness and energy savings.

Another example is the application of the Free Route Airspace concept, which allows an operator to choose its own route subject to only a few limitations (e.g. fixed entry and exit points and the need to avoid danger areas) as opposed to the situation where standard flight paths should be used, thus reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.


LeadInSky demo room - Rome Tiburtina site

The focus on sustainability and safety emerges clearly in the adoption of virtual architectures to reduce the carbon footprint, and in the implementation of research and development programmes, as in the case of the creation of the Resolution Advisory, a warning that suggests a specific manoeuvre to ensure that aircraft with intersecting flight paths remain separate, which increases the safety level in traffic management.

LeadInSky is an application based on SWIM (System-Wide Information Management), one of the main protocols being developed in SESAR. SWIM is an enabling technology for Trajectory-Based Operations (TBO), with the aim of facilitating the distribution of safety-critical information through a standardized European infrastructure, which supports the sharing of ground-to-ground and in-air information between all the players in the field (airport managers, air navigation service providers, ground service handlers and airlines) and at the same time guarantees high cybersecurity standards.

The SWIM approach introduces a completely new way of exchanging aviation information and is not limited to one solution or technology. Instead, it relies on a global level of interoperability and standardisation that allows all users and providers to exchange information without having to use different interfaces or protocols. In this perspective, Leonardo has been one of the main players in the standardisation of SWIM interfaces from the earliest stages of SESAR.

LeadInSky has customisable solutions to guarantee what is known as “availability”, i.e., the time (expressed as a percentage) in which the system is perfectly operational, without faults or interruptions. Specifically, the immediate fall-back is a system that runs in parallel with the operating system and powers additional display screens: if the main system crashes, controllers can work on the fall-back system without even needing to move. The disaster recovery system is separate from the operating system and continuously aligned in terms of data, but it is in a different physical location. If the main site is completely out of service (e.g., in extreme situations such as terrorist attacks or earthquakes), it reduces inactivity periods, data loss and operational interruptions, maintaining the system’s continuity. In the last four years, across the world, the systems provided by Leonardo have guaranteed an operational availability estimated at 99.99%.