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Incentivising Technology Adoption for Accelerating Change in ATM

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An agent-based model supports air traffic management modernisation

Evidence-based policy assessment leveraging high-tech decision making simulation will accelerate the uptake of new air traffic management technologies.

Transport and Mobility

Harnessing digital technologies for air traffic management (ATM) will enhance efficiency, safety and resilience while minimising delays and environmental impact. This will rely strongly on increased automation and enhanced digital connectivity among airborne and ground-based systems and functions. Historically, ATM stakeholders have demonstrated a slow evolution of technology adoption. Although technology evolution is a must, there is a need for policies and institutions that foster industry’s transformation. The EU is actively working in this direction. The SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking is a public-private partnership co-funded by the EU and set up to accelerate the delivery of the Digital European Sky through research and innovation. Within the framework of the SESAR Joint Undertaking, the ITACA project aimed to shed light on the drivers of and barriers to the adoption of innovative technologies in ATM to accelerate ATM modernisation.

Barriers preventing ATM high-tech solutions from taking flight

The key decision-makers when it comes to adopting ATM technology are mainly airlines, airports and air navigation services providers. However, other stakeholders play key roles in the process, including technology providers, aircraft manufacturers, labour unions and, critically, policymakers. Balancing the different interests and concerns of this varied group of people must be addressed to increase adoption. Financial considerations, the critical importance of safety and the difficulty of transitioning a system that must always be operable, and the fact that the main investor is often not the beneficiary are some of the challenges. According to project coordinator David Mocholí González of Nommon: “ITACA has developed a policy assessment framework to evaluate policies and their impact on ATM stakeholders, leading to evidence-based recommendations regarding the most effective policy approaches to facilitate technology adoption in ATM.” To enable this, the team leveraged a high-tech combination of computer science, mathematics, economics and psychology.

Agent-based modeling, industrial organisation theory, behavioural economics and gaming experiments

An agent-based model simulates a system as a collection of autonomous decision-making entities called agents. ITACA’s modeling toolset represents the behaviour of the European ATM ecosystem by integrating agent-based modeling with industrial organisation theory and behavioural economics. ITACA harnessed participatory gaming simulations to calibrate and validate its agent-based model. In the experiments, participants were placed in the dynamic environment of the agent-based model, where they made decisions based on underlying rules. Participatory gaming simulation, taking advantage of the one-to-one correspondence between artificial agents and real-world actors, provides a particularly powerful framework for the validation of agents’ behaviour.

The carrot and the stick: incentives and enforcement foster ATM technology adoption

“A policy is not equally positive for everyone, and applying it might be worse than doing nothing if it changes the behaviour of certain stakeholders adversely. A combination of economic incentives and enforcement provides the best results regarding the economic outcome and operational efficiency” notes Mocholí. The outcome of policies is also highly sensitive to a technology’s costs and benefits, making a cost benefit analysis of new technologies essential. Finally, when the main investor is not the main beneficiary, policies should focus on this key stakeholder since others will follow its lead with lower implementation effort. ITACA’s policy assessment framework enables benchmarking different policies based on a set of indicators (technology adoption effectiveness, operational efficiency and economic outcome) and identifies mechanisms that emerge when implementing a policy and their effect(s) on a subset of stakeholders. It will foster policies, both incentivising and enforcing, that accelerate technology adoption in ATM, benefitting ATM stakeholders, travellers and the environment.


ITACA, ATM, air traffic management, policy assessment, agent-based model, participatory gaming simulations, behavioural economics, industrial organisation theory, economic modelling

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