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The Proliferation of Air Navigation

What is the force driving the proliferation of air navigation? In this post I’ve attempted to draw a timeline using my experiences in the profession and ICAO’s path to this point in air navigation.

In 1984, two important events occurred - one personal and one global. My love affair with ATC begun, and ICAO established the FANS Committee.

In the auditorium of my high school, I sat amongst a group of young men and women who were about to make career choices, listening to a presentation by the then headmaster’s brother. He was a career air traffic controller making a pitch to those who dare.

Mr. Alexander, the presenter, spoke about the science behind the profession and the organization that governs what the do – the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Fast-forward to 1988, I joined the Civil Aviation Department, the first opportunity I had to get in the door since leaving high school ten months earlier.

During the rigorous four-month ab initio training course, we learnt about ICAO and its workings, including the FANS Committee.


ICAO recognized that the proliferation of air navigation required a committee of its own to deal with the massive developments to come, and accordingly, the FANS Committee was formed in 1984.

FANS eventually evolved into CNS/ATM, and a global plan for its implementation was drawn up. Within each ICAO region, plans were elaborated to provide states with a step-by-step guide to global compliance. States in turn, created national plans for CNS/ATM implementation.

In their wisdom, not only did they ICAO develop guidelines for physical infrastructure, but also the institutional framework for the air navigation service providers around the globe that have to implement these plans.

At the forefront of CNS/ATM, was the implementation of WGS-84, the referencing system to support navigation.


In 1994, as president of the Guyana Association of Air Traffic Controllers, I attended my first IFATCA international conference in Ottawa. The buzzwords back then at that conference were CPDLC and datalink. These were all a blur to me, as all I knew, was that the technology was futuristic.

When I became a supervisor in 1997, another buzzword being peddled around the tower was REDDIG. I later became aware that it was the backbone for the ATM component. REDDIG is the Spanish acronym for Regional Digital Network, and it is the South American region’s network that will interconnect all states within the region. The network will also interconnect with all contiguous regional networks to bring the global plan into fruition.

In the Caribbean, the regional digital network is called MEVA, another Spanish acronym meaning Improvement to ATS Voice Link. In my opinion, the name is an anomaly since the system was designed for both voice and data communication.

Implementation of the ATS Message Handling System (AMHS), the technology that is replacing the AFTN, has begun and is being run on the digital networks. Future applications (at least in the Caribbean) include ADS-B, CPDLC and datalink.

Institutional Framework

In order to meet the challenges of implementation of the CNS/ATM plan, ICAO has set the framework for states to liberate their respective ANSPs. This will give the ANSPs the autonomy to operate on the principle of a business, designing independent budgets to meet present and future needs, and charging the users appropriately for the use of the services.

Document 9082, ICAO’s Policies on Charges for Airports and Air Navigation Services was born in 2000 and states in it’s forward:

“In developing these Policies the Council has noted with concern that the problems involved in providing and maintaining the airport and air navigation facilities and services required by the Regional Air Navigation Plans are particularly serious for the less advanced economies, principal among these being the limited financial resources available for economic development in general, the higher priority assigned to other sectors of the economy whose needs are considered more urgent, under-utilization of airports and air navigation services, the high cost of obtaining equipment from other States and the difficulties in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of qualified personnel. The Council will continue to take appropriate action towards obtaining more assistance for the States concerned in planning and financing air navigation services as well as with regard to the provision of adequate human resources.”

Document 9161, Manual of Air Navigation Services Economics states in it’s forward:

“This guidance takes into account the wide range of different circumstances faced by air navigation services management in the regions of the world. It is based on international policies and principles on air navigation services cost-recovery that States have developed through ICAO and describes procedures and practices that are in conformity with these policies and principles. The basis for these policies and principles is set out in Article 15 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the charter of ICAO. Extensive policy guidance in this area was subsequently developed by the ICAO Council and is contained in Doc 9082.”

These and other similar documents have basically beaten the path that states can proceed along if they are to successfully develop the air navigation services in accordance with regional plans.

In his address to Worldwide CNS/ATM Systems Implementation Conference in 1998 in Rio de Janeiro, Director of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau, Jack Howell, said “Make no mistake - CNS/ATM systems are already a good business investment, so the challenge of financing CNS/ATM lies in organization and administration. For example, while CNS/ATM is cost-beneficial for the industry overall, it is highly cost-beneficial for users, but frequently not cost-beneficial for providers. Thus, arrangements have to be made for provider costs to be recovered from users through user charges. Users have already agreed to this as long as the charges are equitable, transparent and related to costs. “


ICAO having set the stage for recouping investments for CNS/ATM developments, ANSPs can now proceed in accordance of basic economic principles and seek funding for these long-term investments that will practically pay for themselves over the life of the infrastructure.

Keeping Up

The group charged with the implementation of CNS/ATM in the Caribbean and South American region is GREPECAS. I had the honor of representing Guyana at GREPECAS 11 in Manaus, Brazil back in 2002. One of the duties of the group is to set in motion the recommendations made by the ICAO Council on CNS/ATM activities. The work of the various sub-groups are also reviewed here. To be specific, matters surrounding RVSM implementation and the establishment of RNAV routes in the CAR/SAM region were high on the agenda.

What does all of this mean?

The route to the future of air navigation has tremendously long lead times. Planning for the implementation of CNS/ATM infrastructure and applications has been methodical and getting on board the train is no fly-by-night operation. I’m a fervent advocate for both safety and efficiency in air navigation, and as far as I can see, CNS/ATM promises both.

I recognize the limitation of implementation by some states due to financial constraints. But as far as practicable, the biggest beneficiaries of the entire plan - the users - must share in the cost for such developments. Only then, can the relationship between ANSPs and users be said to be symbiotic while air navigation proliferates.

4 Responses


Hello Wayne, another excellect, informative and educational post! I’ll send a link to Mr. Alexander, with whom I am in constant contact so that he can see some of the results of that long ago pitch he had made to a young man who dared and who still dares!

Wayne Farley

Thanks CF. This post was intended as a presentation to an ATS meeting, but I abandoned the idea and thought it best to publish it for the world to see from whence I came.


Whiskey Fox! A very detailed and indeed excellent and informative post. I agree, there are enormous benefits that can be derived from the implementation of CNS-ATM by states, for both users and ANSP(s) across the globe. And as explained, both the aforementioned stakeholders can bare the cost, with the latter shouldering the majority, through the application of user charges that are, ‘equitable and transparent.’
Another motivational factor being, it is part of ICAO’s global plan, states must get on board or risk being left in open waters to perish in isolation.
Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.
rgds Echo Mike.

Wayne Farley

Thanks for your contribution Eon. Let’s hope that posts such as these come to the attention of those who make decisions. My concern is always that the men and women in the engine room - air traffic controllers - suffer unnecessarily when there are other viable options to pursue, but are not. It is also unfair to the users who expect to get a better service, but will have to settle for less. I love Einstein’s definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

About Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, a career air traffic controller. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from around the aviation world. A post titled “13 Characteristics of an Air Traffic Controller” written in 2010 went viral and established me as the unofficial ambassador of ATC.

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