Simulation HUB: where idea implementation begins

HungaroControl2022. 04. 04.

HungaroControl operates Europe’s largest commercial radar simulator at its headquarters, on which trainings are held and various processes are validated on request. With its help, the employees and consultants of the Hungarian air navigation service provider are able to offer real-time simulation services to other air traffic control personnel, authorities or other interested parties. In today’s blog post, we present the activities of the Simulation HUB, i.e. the research development and simulation working group, with the help of the Head of Simulation and Validation Unit Gábor Papp.

HungaroControl operates three ATC (air traffic) simulators. The first is the so-called MATIAS-BEST radar simulator, on which we train our ACC and approach air traffic controllers as well as flight service specialists (FIC) who handle aircraft flying under the VFR rules. In addition, the active personnel carry out their annual emergency and refreshing exercises on this simulator asrecommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The purpose of such trainings is to increase aviation safety, because controllers are not encouraged to perform routine tasks, but to solve unexpected and rarely occurring situations such as engine failure or on-board fire. The outcome is that if once they encounter similar situations in real environment, they will know how to react quickly and which procedures to apply in order to navigate the defective airplane safely. The second is the so-called 3D tower simulator, which is obviously used to train tower controllers and for the active staff to execute trainings.

Nevertheless, in the focus of this writing is the third simulator, called CRDS (Center of Research, Development and Simulation), which is the cornerstone of the Simulation HUB.  Originally, this simulator was operated by EUROCONTROL (the organization responsible for the safety of European aviation), but in 2011 HungaroControl acquired the whole system and took over part of the human resource as well.  The difference between CRDS and the above-mentioned simulators is that the latter are solely for educational purposes, used only to satisfy the company’s internal needs.  In the case of MATIAS-BEST, for example, the simulation environment is the exact reproduction of the domestic real conditions, so the trainees will not have a difficult transition, while the active staff is be able to perform the tasks arising during the refreshing trainings without disruptions.

In contrast, the CRDS is a research and development simulator on which validations and trainings are carried out on the basis of external orders. The advantage of this simulator is that it allows a depiction of virtually every airspace, sector, procedure and traffic situation, so the simulation environment can be adapted to the needs of the customer. For example, recently the experts working with the CRDS re-modelled Icelandic airspace and work processes, thus air traffic controllers from that country could practice in a familiar environment at HungaroControl’s headquarters in Budapest. Preparing a successful simulation training is a very time-consuming process, because Hungarian experts must collect huge bulk of data on the characteristics of the foreign airspace, the extent of its traffic, and the working procedures. Once gathered, the data (airspace sectors, navigation points, runway directions, etc.) is planted into the CRDS software, which creates a realistic simulation environment and interface. The volume of the traffic can be also adjusted to the needs and expectations of the customers. Thus, when the Iranian Air Navigation Service Provider sent its personnel to Hungary for training, they wanted an increased traffic environment, which request could be completely satisfied, because the software that runs the simulator is capable to generate any volume of traffic, if it has all the necessary information about the specifics of the certain airspace.

Compared to trainings, validations are more complex processes as more diverse operations need to be carried out and a large dataset has to be processed. They are needed, because innovative ideas cannot be introduced immediately due to serious flight safety risks that derive from the application of untested procedures or concepts. Firstly, they must to be tested in the simulator, i.e. they have to be validated in order to verify that they do not pose any threat to flight safety, so their introduction will not endanger air traffic participants. For example, the CRDS simulator has been used to validate several cross-border free-route procedures (FAB CE FRA, SEAFRA, HUFRA), which allow airlines to operate their flights in a cohesive airspace blocks on the shortest possible, optional routes. In addition, the simulations necessary for the reopening of the KFOR sector (airspace over Kosovo) were also run in the Simulation HUB. In addition to the above, the HunagroControl’s simulation and validation team has participated in and currently participates in a number of other international collaborations at the request of foreign air navigation services or as a member of EU research and development projects.

The simulations are conducted with the involvement of air traffic controllers and pseudo pilots. Objective and subjective data are collected during various exercises, which are also analyzed by human factor analysts. Objective data is understood to be information that illustrates, for instance, how much traffic the controller could handle in a certain sector with a given workload. Subjective data primarily measure individual values, for example, how the change in the workload affects the situational awareness of a specific controller. At the end of the validation simulations – which can last up to several weeks – HungaroControl provides the customer with an impact assessment study, in which it summarizes the experiences and makes recommendations on the introduction of the procedures.

At the beginning of this article we mentioned that the CRDS simulator is the cornerstone of the Simulation HUB, and it operates in a real-time environment. However, we must not forget the accelerated-time simulation service, which is another option for the external partners to check the feasibility of their ideas. In this method, pseudo-pilots and controllers are replaced by artificial intelligence, which not only runs the simulation in a shorter time, but also collects and analyzes the previously mentioned subjective and objective data. The reliability of this is well below that of a real-time simulation, but if several potentially suitable concepts exist than they can be pre-filtered, so the costly real-time simulations do not have to be run on all scenarios.