Accès aux contenus de la page (appuyer sur "Entrée")

DSNA’s modernisation of its air traffic management systems

19 juin 2015 (mis à jour le 4 juillet 2016) - Transports

Traffic growth and the modernization of Air Traffic Management systems have always been a match. For more than 70 years, the French Air Navigation Service provider has continuously invested in its systems to anticipate and sometimes catch up the increasing demand for public transport. Now that DSNA enters the full computerization era, the objective remains the same : providing airlines with the safest flight and delivering maximum airspace capacity.

Just after the WAR, traffic picks up. 10 000 DC3 from the US Army are used for public transport. In France, airlines get back to business with flights carrying more passengers every year from Paris, Lyon and Marseille airports.

DC3 – cruising speed 150kts – 28 passengers


Number of passengers in Paris, Lyon and Marseille airport
1937/38 1946/47 1949/50
150 000 pax 500 000 pax 1 000 000 pax


On 1st of April 1947, 3 Area Control Centers are implemented in Paris, Bordeaux and Aix-en-Provence. Air navigation service is provided to answer the growing after-war air transport demand, increase the level of safety and enhance the efficiency of landing and take-off procedures. A regulation will set the foundation of what will become Air Traffic Management :

  • guaranty safety in busy areas and at the crossroads of major airways.
  • receive and relay all information in relation to air traffic and foreseen safety issues.
Marseille ACC – 1947 Bordeaux ACC located on the airfield


What does a 1947 control room consist of ?

  • Phone lines
  • Boards showing
  1. the air information reports (the ancestor of the NOTAM)
  2. status of each airfield under the ACC’s responsibility
  3. meteorological conditions
  4. flights follow-up by airways
  • A plotting table : a map simply lain on a table with wooden plots (representing the aircraft) displayed and moved every 10 to 15 minutes
Plotting table in Paris ACC


1948-58 : traffic increases by 10% each year.

Airplanes carry more passengers (from 17 to 27 pax per aircraft) and the number of flights handled goes up every year. This new situation sets the fate of the plotting table and the advent of the paper strip (a piece of paper representing a flight and showing all relevant information, and particularly its detailed forecast and real time trajectory.

1956 Marseille ACC Ops Room 1957 on board a constellation cockpit

What does Air Traffic Control consist of ?

  • Traffic management following published procedures,
  • controllers use paper strips, radio communications and telephones,
  • paper strips are filled in by hand,
  • no radar to represent the real time situation,
  • time separations apply between aircraft.
1952 sees the introduction of radars and displays to provide a representation of the real time situation 1958 4 control sectors in Bordeaux ACC and hand written paper strips


1960-70 : the jet engines are here : faster planes, higher cruising levels.

B707 - cruising speed 480kts – 132 to 189 passengers Caravelle - cruising speed 420kts – 80 to 128 passengers


Air Traffic Management has to adjust. 3 radars are commissioned to cover the French airspace and the first steps of data processing are on the way.

1963 : the initial flight plan processing system is implemented allowing, in particular, the printing of paper strips.

1965 : first radar processing system to analyse the incoming radar data (from one or more radar data sources) and prepare it for display.

Controller working position in the 70’s


1971-80 : now that the large commercial aircraft come into play

1971 jumbo jet

Radar displays and data computer processors are now connected. The first flight labels appear on the radar screens allowing easier aircraft identification and thus facilitating controllers’ work. Workload is streamlined, airspace capacity improved but first the sectors’ overloads appear.
From 1981, the data calculators and processors are constantly upgraded, new display screens implemented, the standard radar separation is reduced to 8NM (Nautical Miles) between two aircraft.

1973, all 4 ACCs are interconnected 1984, Bordeaux ACC’s ops room - new system architecture for a better reliability

1988-99 – traffic booms with the liberalization of air transportation
All energies concur to the same objective : upgrades to allow the controller to handle more planes while insuring maximum safety. But traffic growth is too strong and Air Traffic Control capacity delays build up.

Queuing up for departure Flight management displays to monitor the traffic demand


1992 : a new controller position is implemented to meet traffic demand and deliver capacity results. The Operational Display System (ODS) is deployed in all 5 ACCs and concurs to the harmonization of all ATC equipment in Europe. It integrates a network architecture, normalizes all equipment in all en-route centers, introduces new ATM functionalities and allows dialogue capabilities between controller positions inside and outside the ACC.

ODS in Paris ACC ODS displays more information on each flight label.


1996 sees a new radar processing system being commissioned. It enables to reduce standard radar separation from 8Nm to 5NM thus increasing airspace capacity.

2002 – Reims ACC ops room


Nowadays, traffic continues to grow and the demand is intensifying during very popular time periods (i.e. from 07 to 09 AM / from 05 to 07 PM). The need for airspace capacity is continuous. From 2015, DSNA fulfills an important part of its technical modernisation plan and starts the en-route electronic environment phase with the deployment of EEE (En-route air traffic organizer Electronic Environment) and 4F (4 Flight is DSNA ‘s innovative ATM system) in all 5 ACCs. Once more, man and technology go hand in hand to take the challenge up and manage the traffic in one of the busiest areas in the world in the safest and most efficient way.

This article has been written thanks to the participation of DGAC’s Mission Mémoire.