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Open source is mission critical for Europe’s air traffic

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It is entirely possible to use open source in a highly regulated environment such as air traffic control, says Dr Gerolf Ziegenhain, Head of Linux Competence & Service Centre (LCSC) in Mainz (Germany). Open source service providers can shield an organisation from the wide variety of development processes in the open source community.

What open source developers look like (left) to developers working for Europe's  air traffic controllers (right)

“Don’t underestimate the effects of differences in culture and processes”, warned Dr Ziegenhain, in his keynote presentation at the Fosdem conference in Brussels, on 5 February.

Open source is also accepted by users, when the system is flexible and modular and when it solves the customer’s problem. Dr Ziegenhain recommends not forcing customers to switch, but letting them gradually discover the advantages of the news system.

Linux and other open source software are crucial parts of Europe’s air traffic control system. A combination of computer hardware and Linux-based software, developed, tested and certified over the past 15 years, forms the core, centrally-managed air traffic control system. Additional systems are being implemented by airport towers across Germany.

According to Ziegenhain, the complete control that is offered by open source software makes it well-suited to air traffic control systems. The software can be precisely matched to computer hardware, which is key to guaranteeing systems’ safety. Open source also eases the life cycle management of these systems, overcoming the limitations of proprietary software and computing hardware support.

Germany’s DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH started its Linux Competence & Service Centre in 2005. Five years later, the company managed the country’s central air traffic control on 1500 Linux systems. Since then, their Linux-based solution has rapidly been implemented by towers in airports across the country, growing to over 10,500 Linux systems in 2016.

More information:

Presentation by Gerolf Ziegenhain
Fosdem’s Interview with Gerolf Ziegenhain