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Corporate Research

Better control in the skies

New air traffic management technologies from Atech reduce delays and improve flight safety in Brazil

Takeoff from Congonhas Airport in the city of São Paulo. In the background: view of a screen from the Sagittarius aircraft control system

Eduardo Cesar Takeoff from Congonhas Airport in the city of São Paulo. In the background: view of a screen from the Sagittarius aircraft control systemEduardo Cesar

Brazil’s aviation industry has seen dramatic growth in recent years. The number of passengers flown rose from 50 million in 2005 to 120 million in 2015. The number of takeoffs and landings in Brazilian airspace increased from 2.7 million in 2008 to 3.8 million in 2015, according to estimates from the Brazilian Air Force (FAB). To handle that expansion, which occurred within a relatively short period of time, the FAB, responsible for control and surveillance of the nation’s airspace, has taken a series of steps to modernize the industry. Among them are two new Brazilian technologies that were adopted to manage air navigation–the Sagittarius system, for real time control of aircraft, and SIGMA, a tool for optimizing traffic flow. Together, these solutions have enabled air traffic to grow in recent years without experiencing the serious problems that arose in 2006 and 2007, when a series of infrastructure failures caused thousands of passengers to flood the airport terminals without knowing whether their flights would actually depart.

Development of new technological systems was important for helping to regulate the situation and meet the needs of heavy air traffic during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The Rio-Galeão Concessionaire, which administers Tom Jobim International Airport, also known as Galeão, in Rio de Janeiro reported that 90,000 passengers went through the airport on August 22, 2016, the day after the Olympic Games ended—twice the daily average—yet there were no delays. “The operational characteristics of Sagittarius were based on standards adopted by international air traffic control agencies, like the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol),” says Edson Carlos Mallaco, president of Atech, headquartered in São Paulo. The company was bought up by the Embraer Group in 2013.

The company
R&D Center
São Paulo, SP
Nº of Employees
180 in R&D and Innovation
Principal products
Air traffic control and information monitoring and management systems, meteorological control systems

The Sagittarius project, reflecting the Portuguese acronym for System for Advanced Management of Air Traffic Information and Reports of Operational Interest, was launched in 2007. During the entire period of development, the company maintained a partnership with the Simulator Laboratory of the Air Space Control Institute (ICEA) in São José dos Campos, which trains the controllers and where a prototype of the Sagittarius system was installed for evaluation, critique, and suggestions from professionals from the various traffic control centers in Brazil. “That partnership helped us reach a stage of operational maturity very quickly,” Mallaco recalls.

Sagittarius is used by flight controllers to monitor aircraft movements in Brazilian air space. Based on the gate-to-gate concept, it is formatted to ensure safer operations from aircraft takeoff, flight along the route, to landing of the plane at its destination. It is a system for controlling aircraft and helicopters that uses data from radar and other kinds of air surveillance sensors to provide the controller with accurate information.

The system was designed by the team of Atech researchers composed of 180 professionals working in product development and technological innovation. About 90% of the company’s São Paulo-based personnel hold university degrees in various fields of knowledge, such as engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical, electronic, aeronautical infrastructure and computer science), the exact sciences (mathematics, statistics, and physics), and human sciences (business administration, economics, marketing, and project management). Most employees have more than 10 years of experience; 27 have master’s degrees and six have PhDs. Atech invests about 9% of its sales in research, development, and innovation.

Employees at the São Paulo Approach Control Unit

Eduardo Cesar Employees at the São Paulo Approach Control UnitEduardo Cesar

Gray screen
One of the most visible innovations in Sagittarius is the way information is presented on computer screens in the flight control room. While in the old system, known as X-4000 (also built by Atech) the background of the screen was black, on the new system it’s gray. “That change is part of the new color standardization used for Sagittarius, anchored in international in studies and recommendations. The color gray, when compared with other options, reduces controller eye fatigue,” says Marcos Ribeiro Resende, Atech director of Technology and Innovation. The change also means that the screen affords greater contrast among colors, which facilitates identification of each system functionality.

The new tool has also made the consoles more ergonomic and user-friendly. Previously, the instructions transmitted by controllers to the pilots—requests for change of route, speed, or altitude, for example—had to be typed out on the keyboard. Now those commands can be sent more rapidly using the mouse. Flight plans—documents that provide essential data, such as aircraft identification, departure and arrival times, and information about the route—are also visualized on the screen using a resource known as “intelligent label.” Until a few years ago the flight plan was viewed on a separate screen or printed on a paper label placed in front of the controller. When controllers had to check flight data they had to take their eyes off the screen, momentarily ceasing to follow aircraft movements.

In addition to the high degree of automation, the new system includes a function known as silent coordination. During flight, an aircraft needs to be continually transferred from one controller, assigned to a certain sector of air space, to another. “That transfer used to be done by telephone, a method of communication subject to static and voice quality problems. With Sagittarius, the task is accomplished via an interface available on the intelligent label on which the system generates internationally standardized messages,” explains Edson Fagundes, specialist in air traffic control and commercial manager of Atech. “All these innovations have reduced telephone use by the controller and alleviated the continuous stress that the professionals experience, thus ensuring greater operational comfort and safety,” Fagundes says.

A Sagittarius system screen shows aircraft positions

Eduardo Cesar A Sagittarius system screen shows aircraft positionsEduardo Cesar

According to air transportation specialist Jorge Eduardo Leal Medeiros, a professor in the Department of Transportation Engineering at the USP Polytechnic School, Sagittarius, with its new functionalities, places Brazil among the group of nations that have mastered the techniques used in manufacturing the most modern air traffic management technologies. “The Atech solution is at the same level as similar systems developed in other countries,” says Medeiros, who trained in aeronautical and aircraft engineering at the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA). He points out that traffic flow management requirements are established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), so that technological solutions developed by manufacturers must meet ICAO standards.

The researcher also emphasizes that Sagittarius is the result of investments made by the Brazilian government over a period of years in order to train professionals who would be able to develop new technologies for the aviation industry. Atech was founded in 1997 by a group of engineers who worked on the Amazon Surveillance System (SIVAM), a program conceived by Brazilian national defense agencies to ensure control of the airspace over the Amazon region.

Sagittarius has been installed at four of the Area Control Centers (ACC) that manage Brazil’s airspace. It has yet to be installed at the center that controls the region of the Atlantic Ocean for which Brazil is responsible. The first ACC to receive the system, in 2010, was the Curitiba (Paraná State) center (which handles air traffic in the Brazilian South and part of the Southeast). Soon after, updated versions were installed at the centers based in Brasília (which covers the Central-West region and part of the Southeast), Manaus (which covers the North) and Recife (which handles the Northeast region, besides the Atlantic Ocean). The system also is already in operation at nine Approach Control Units (APP) in Brazil and at training and skills-building institutions operated by the Aeronautics Command in São José dos Campos and the Aeronautics Specialists School (EEAR) in Guaratinguetá (SP). It will probably replace the X-4000 system at another 16 APPs within the next three years. While the APPs manage the airspace around airports during takeoff and approach to landing, the ACCs monitor aircraft when they reach cruising altitude (see infographic).

Trafego_INFOOne of the most recent sites to receive the Atech system was the São Paulo Approach Control Unit, the largest in Brazil and responsible for departures and arrivals at the airports of Congonhas (CGH), Guarulhos (GRU), Campo de Marte (SAO), Campinas-Viracopos (VCP), and São José dos Campos (SJK). “For the time being, Sagittarius is operational only in Brazil but we are looking for opportunities to export it. Our target markets are countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East,” Mallaco explains.

Organized flow
The other solution created by Atech to make air traffic management more efficient is the Integrated System for Managing Air Movement (SIGMA). Used in strategic planning to calculate demand from flights and for airspace capacity, including at airports, SIGMA integrates data from the airlines, airports, and control agencies, enabling them to adjust the growth in demand from the industry to suit Brazil’s aviation infrastructure. “While Sagittarius performs real-time management of aircraft in flight from one point to another, SIGMA is used to plan, in advance, the flow of aircraft in Brazilian skies and to take action in real time, within the current air traffic pattern, to resolve in collaboration with the airlines and control bodies eventual problems that may lead to changes in flights, owing to weather conditions, for example. It was created in response to the increase in domestic air traffic,” says Mallaco, emphasizing that this is the first tool of its type developed in Brazil and one of the few in the world. SIGMA was produced in partnership with the FAB. The system is also being operated in India where the Airports Authority of India (AAI) purchased a SIGMA unit. “We won an international coopetition against American and European suppliers and implemented the system in India in 2014. There, it is called SkyFlow,” says Atech Technology and Innovation Director Resende.