After several years of talking about the overhaul of Europe's air traffic management technology, the time for action finally may be arriving.

European regulators and their industry partners have been working to develop detailed blueprints for a next-generation ATM system that would be standard across Europe, and in some cases provided collectively. Now they are launching two initiatives that represent the transition to implementation.

With efforts to combine airspace into multinational blocks losing momentum, these technology initiatives may offer the best hope for improvements in Europe's ATM efficiency.

The European Commission is preparing to select an industry consortium that will oversee the deployment of technologies from the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) road map. Separately, Eurocontrol is about to launch a contracting process that will enable industry coalitions to provide certain ATM services on a pan-European basis.

“The [research] project has done its job, and now it's time to deploy,” says Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (Canso) Director General Jeff Poole. There is “more awareness of the need to move [forward]. . . . We've reached that natural point to change from talking to doing. The ability to implement is there because the background work has been done.”

Sesar, which is the technology facet of the broader Single European Sky effort, has spent many years in definition and development phases. The role of the Sesar deployment manager (SDM) will be to ensure that selected technologies and projects are introduced as planned.

The European Commission recently asked for expressions of interest in the SDM role and plans to issue a call for tenders in May, an EC official told Aviation Week at the Canso World ATM Congress here March 5. Responses likely will be required by June or July, and the EC plans to have the successful bidder “up and running” by the end of the year, says the official.

It is expected that a broad industry consortium will be the main bidder for this role, including air navigation service providers (ANSP), airports and airlines. A group of Europe's major airlines has already announced its intention to be part of the SDM team. Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, International Airlines Group and EasyJet have formed a partnership known as A4 to work together on certain ATM issues. The A4 airlines are “aiming at playing a decision-making role in the deployment manager organization,” says Air France Chief Operating Officer Alain Bassil.

Lufthansa Chief Operating Officer Kay Kratky says the airlines are anxious to be involved so they can ensure that the ATM technologies being deployed will help airlines reduce costs, and will represent a “tangible return on investment.” He cites Europe's controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC) program as an example of what airlines want to avoid—after Lufthansa and other carriers spent millions equipping their aircraft, some ANSPs failed to meet deadlines to provide the CPDLC service.

The EC is comfortable with the likely prospect of a broad industry consortium being the major bidder. However, one ANSP official worries that if the consortium is too inclusive, it could render decision-making difficult.

The EC is also working to decide the first programs that the SDM will be tasked with implementing. These will come from a list of projects that were developed in earlier Sesar phases.

Meanwhile, Eurocontrol is launching a separate initiative that will change the way certain ATM services are handled. It is about to begin the contracting process that will allow several industry consortia to provide ATM functions for multiple European countries.

The Centralized Services initiative has been at the planning stage until now, and Eurocontrol is taking the first steps toward making it a reality. The idea is that groups drawn from ANSPs, airports, airlines and manufacturers will bid to develop and operate some services, mainly involving data management.

This approach is expected to yield significant savings, since services will be provided collectively rather than individual ANSPs each developing its own system to do the same thing.

Eurocontrol's Provisional Council recently gave the go-ahead for the first set of services that will be contracted out. Bidders must first establish demonstration programs, which can then be transitioned to full operation.

The agency will issue a call for interest this month, Joe Sultana, Eurocontrol's network management director, told Aviation Week at the Canso event. Potential bidders do not have to actually form consortia at this point, merely signal their willingness to do so. They probably will be given 4-6 weeks to respond, Sultana says.

In a parallel effort, Eurocontrol is developing the specifications for each service. This will allow it to issue calls for tender, a step that is expected to occur by September, says Sultana.

Some of the demonstrations will be approved for full operation more quickly than others, as they will vary in complexity. It is expected that at least a few of the Centralized Services will be operational as early as mid-2015, Sultana says.

The Eurocontrol council must approve every service before it is switched from demonstration to operational. “We would have to be convinced that it's going to work,” says Sultana. Eurocontrol reserves the right to launch a new tender process if the results of a demonstration are unsatisfactory.

Sultana says the agency will encourage consortia to limit their size. Eurocontrol does not want the same companies or consortia to win all the services—the intention is to spread the contracts around, he says. Some less complex services could be handled by smaller ANSPs.

Some of the services already are provided by Eurocontrol, while some are new initiatives that have come out of the Sesar ATM plan.

Six services have been approved to move to demonstration phase: flight plan and airport slot consistency service; advanced flexible use of airspace support service; European ATM information management service; management of common network resources service; network infrastructure performance monitoring and analysis service; and pan-European network service. In addition, feasibility studies are being conducted on another three proposed services.