After taking a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) eagerly awaits the start to this year’s World ATM Congress in Madrid, Spain. Over the course of three days, more than 250 sessions will take place to discuss the latest in air traffic management (ATM), and the rapidly evolving aviation industry on a global scale in the face of a pandemic leaves much to be discussed by these professionals. With 135 countries and territories in attendance for this year’s show and more than 200 speakers, World ATM Congress is focused on topics impacting ATM and important lessons learned over the last year and a half.

To find out more about what to expect at this year’s show and how much the world of ATM has changed since 2019, we connected with Brian R. Bruckbauer, President and CEO of ATCA. Here’s what he had to share:

Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: What will be some of the key themes at this year’s World ATM Congress?

World ATM Congress

Brian R. Bruckbauer: We are excited to be welcoming everyone back to Madrid, Spain, for the 2021 World ATM Congress on 26-28 October 2021. We are returning after a time that has challenged our industry. The impact of COVD-19 and the resulting changes to the industry and operations will be an important topic in our theater presentations, as well as in our one-on-one conversations with each other. It’s vital that we update each other on our recovery process and share our successes and shortcomings to create a more cohesive national airspace system (NAS) in the post-COVID world.

Another key theme this year is emerging technology and the impact it has on the future skies. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and commercial space launches have become more common since we last gathered for World ATM Congress in 2019. These changes to the airspace impact operations and safety. Attendees will enjoy presentations on integrating new users, operationalizing new technology, and integrating new technology in airports and urban environments.

CAT Editors: What have been some of the most important lessons learned with regards to ATM as a result of the pandemic? How do we keep moving forward as an industry?

Bruckbauer: Air traffic controllers were in a difficult position when the pandemic first started. Unlike many other professions, air traffic controllers could not stop working despite the low levels of air traffic. The FAA and control tower management needed to ramp up disinfecting protocols, create two-week team rotations, and develop emergency plans for when a controller tested positive for COVID-19. And it all needed to be done fast without disrupting operations. We saw that air traffic controllers are a resilient bunch who showed up for work and stayed focused on the task despite everything that was going on in the world. Going forward, we need to continue prioritizing the health of our controllers, who play a critical role in airspace safety. To prioritize the traveling public’s safety, we also need to continue developing and implementing advanced health and safety measures in our airports, such as more automated and touchless systems along the travel journey.

CAT Editors: How is airspace operation changing and what trends should industry leaders be prepared for?

Bruckbauer: One of the fastest-growing trends since we last met in 2019 is the push towards sustainable aviation. Governments have set goals to reduce emissions, and we have seen airlines and manufacturers set goals themselves and take steps towards greener solutions. Many aviation leaders have said that COVID-19 provided an opportunity to kickstart aviation’s sustainability efforts, but it will continue to be a topic of conversation for the next 10, 20, and 30 years to come.

One of the reasons people attend World ATM Congress is to learn about the new technology, and this year there is no shortage of it. We see the rapid expansion of UAVs and recreational drone operators impacting the airspace, and I expect there will be even more conversations to come amongst the industry, government, and communities on how to best regulate these vehicles. We are very fortunate to have Spain’s premier drone event, Expodrónica, joining World ATM Congress. The Expodrónica Pavilion will offer programming and exhibition focused on advanced air mobility (AAM), UAS traffic management (UAM), and autonomous and remotely piloted aerial vehicles (AAV/RPAS). You can learn more about the new Expodrónica Pavilion here.

CAT Editors: Anything else you’d like to add for attendees as the show approaches?

Bruckbauer: The Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) and the ATCA are excited to bring you this international event that opens doors to cross-border conversations about the current ecosystem. With so many players operating in or entering the airspace, it is an essential time to spark discussions and create partnerships that facilitate change and enhance safety. We look forward to welcoming you back to the ATMosphere for business.

Connected Aviation Today is a proud media sponsor for World ATM Congress.