All systems “go” for airport traffic lights

SESAR members recently validated a virtual stop bar guidance system, which aims to improve the safety and efficiency of traffic on the surface of the airport, particularly in low-visibility conditions. The tests were successfully conducted within the framework of SESAR 2020 and received funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

airport traffic lights
Integrated Surface Management - SUMO PJ 03a project

Virtual stop bars work like airport traffic lights. They appear on the radar display of controllers and the navigation of pilots, and indicate whether aircraft can proceed to taxi or stop. The system enables air traffic controllers to select the taxi route to a virtual stop bar for each aircraft.

Information is exchanged between the control tower and pilots via data communication or datalink, which ensures that both the status of a virtual stop bar and the route to the bar are shown on the navigation display in the cockpit.


The technology overcomes limitations in the current system, which assigns a stop bar to one physical position on the airport surface. With virtual stop bars, each aircraft is assigned its stop bar, which allows controllers to dynamically manage the flow of traffic thereby optimising the capacity of the taxiways. Using this new technology, more aircraft will be able to use the available space on the airport surface and taxiways simultaneously during low visibility conditions. The virtual bars are also more cost efficient and adaptable than having physical installations.


The solution was developed by the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) in collaboration with the Italian air navigation service provider, ENAV, Leonardo and Thales Avionics – all members of the SESAR Joint Undertaking. 

Air traffic controllers and pilots tested the solution on a platform simulating low visibility operations the large movement are of Malpensa Airport. A touch-pen display is used to integrate radar information, the switching of stop bars, the assignment of clearance limits and the route, and other relevant flight information. 

In the cockpit, the VSB concept is enabled by the Moving Map that allows to display airport map, the aircraft and taxi route that stops at the VSB received via datalink.


Building up on previous SESAR-1 results (solution #48), this validation exercise focused on optimising communication between control tower and cockpit as well as improving the working environment of air traffic controllers.

The tests are part of the Integrated Surface Management (SUMO PJ 03a), a SESAR 2020 project which aims to ensure smoother and more predictable airport operations in all weather conditions. The project takes into account airport system resilience especially when low visibility procedures are in place.


The SUMO project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 under grant agreement 734153.

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