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Air Traffic Safety







NIKOLA COJIC: Aviation Operations in Montenegro




              Nikola Cojic is a Montenegrin air traffic safety electronics professional (ATSEP), a thorough-bred aviation professional and a potent voice for aviation safety and operational efficiency. He is also the treasurer and a member of the Executive Board of the International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (IFATSEA). The Managing Editor of Air Traffic Safety Electronics International, Adeyinka Olumuyiwa Osunwusi, PhD, caught up with Nikola recently and here’s what he had to say:

For starters, could you paint a picture of the state of the CNS/ATM industry in Montenegro today?


CNS/ATM in Montenegro is part of SMATSA, the ANSP of Serbia and Montenegro. These two countries have agreed to have a single, common air navigation service provider, SMATSA, with one centre in Belgrade, Serbia. This is what can be called a perfect functional airspace block (FAB) that many other FABs could not managed to achieve. The sovereignty of the countries is something that is built into the way SMATSA operates and is the reason why the CNS/ATM industry in Montenegro is developing smoothly according to the development plan of the entire SMATSA as well as in accordance with the laws and needs of Montenegro as a state.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Montenegro as the regulator controls the work of SMATSA in all segments of importance for Montenegro. Additionally, SMATSA cooperates seamlessly with the Montenegrin military, which is a NATO member. In the near future, we expect significant infrastructure projects such as a new radar and reconstruction of the air traffic control facility at Podgorica Airport, which is particularly pleasing to us.


And what about the Europe-wide air navigation service provision scenario?


The Europe-wide air navigation service provision scenario is a complex and evolving landscape, which implies a coordinated and harmonized approach to air traffic management in order to ensure seamless, efficient, and cost-effective operations across the continent. The implementation of the Single European Sky initiative, which aims to harmonize air traffic management across European countries, has brought about increased collaboration and harmonization among the member states, resulting in improved efficiency and safety in air traffic management. However, there are still challenges that need to be addressed, such as the lack of interoperability between systems, regulatory issues, and harmonizing the necessity of adequate airspace fragmentation with the principles of countries’ sovereignty.

This common goal of all stakeholders in European aviation can be achieved through continued investment in modern technology, training, infrastructure, and closer cooperation. It would not only be effective but also a sustainable and reliable system in the long term, which will ultimately benefit all users of the European airspace, including airlines, passengers, and the wider aviation community.

When considering systems and regulations, we should not forget about the human factor. Personnel will have to improve new skills and knowledge, which will take some time. During this time, special attention should be paid to the fact that younger European generations may prioritize quality of life and may not be interested in stressful jobs such as being an air traffic controller or an ATSEP. This means that management should actively monitor stress and fatigue, as well as maintain employee communication to ensure that implementation plans are carried out according to the planned timeline.


In terms of infrastructure and operations, what new challenges are you seeing today in relation to the air traffic safety electronics working environments both in Montenegro and the European continent?


Development and deployment of new technologies and digital tools to enhance air traffic management capabilities, such as advanced surveillance systems, data sharing platforms, and automation technologies, would help to improve overall airspace capacity, optimize flight routes, reduce delays, and enhance safety and environmental performance. However, they would also bring some new challenges.

 These challenges are most visible from the point of view of air traffic safety electronics personnel (ATSEP) because they involve the increasing complexity of systems, integration of new technologies, cybersecurity threats, and aging infrastructure with potential replacements like Remote or Virtual Tower. All these changes must be accompanied by proper regulatory work, including safety and security measures. Therefore, keeping up with changing regulations and ensuring compliance can be a challenge for organizations.

The air traffic safety electronics working environment in Montenegro is following the changes in the European Union. All regulations adopted by the European Union are transposed into Montenegrin legislation. This is a process that lasts for a certain period of time, which can be seen as a disadvantage or an advantage depending on the case.

The advantage is that by the time the regulatory change is implemented, we can already glean some experiences from our colleagues in other European countries and implement them in our system. The disadvantage is that positive changes do not come quickly, indicating that patience is becoming a virtue that produces results when combined with hard work.



What are some of the dynamic changes you are also seeing in regard to the air navigation service sector? And how is the Montenegro aviation industry responding to the changes?


There are various initiatives in place to enhance capacity and facilitate more environmentally friendly flight paths. One key initiative is the implementation of Free Route Airspace (FRA), which enables airlines to select their own routes between designated entry and exit points, rather than being restricted to predetermined paths outlined in air navigation plans. This flexibility allows aircraft to follow their planned flight paths more precisely, leading to improved network efficiency in terms of time savings and reduced fuel burn and emissions.

Currently, FRA covers three quarters of the European continent and will be further improved in the next phases. Estimates suggest that this solution will save 6 million tons of fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by 20 million tonnes. As we can see, FRA is the result of persistent work by ATSEPs in establishing and maintaining interoperability between adjacent control centers, a simple proof that ATSEPs contribute to environmental protection.

The introduction of the Performance-Based Navigation concept has brought some new developments in the navigation world. Instead of following non-directional beacons (NDBs), aircraft will now follow satellite-based navigation systems to achieve the most effective route. Some time ago, this solution clearly indicated that in the future, we would use fewer NDBs for navigation. However, the jamming and interference of satellite signals in recent years indicate the need to proceed with caution in this direction.

With every new solution that increases capacity and maintains a high level of safety for countries whose main economic sector is tourism, such as Montenegro, it is not only a necessity but also a requirement. The large number of natural, cultural, and historical landscapes of extraordinary beauty in Montenegro attract pilots of paragliders, balloons, and drones from all over the world. This is a great advantage for the country, but it also obligates the aviation system to ensure airspace for all of them.


From a global perspective, how would you describe the aviation industry as a whole in terms of its operational, regulatory and technological dynamics?


Even though it is a complex and dynamic sector, the aviation industry plays a crucial role in the global economy. Like in any other industry, operational dynamics in the aviation industry are caused by the struggle for profit, so the whole system has to constantly improve efficiency and profitability through measures such as route optimization, fuel management, and fleet modernization, together with the idea of single-pilot operations, which is still on the table.

All these changes are heavily regulated by various national and international bodies, which set standards for safety, security, and environmental impact that often hinder profit making. Technologically, the aviation sector is rapidly evolving, requiring continuous innovation and adaptation in areas such as aircraft design, navigation systems, and digital optimization tools driving improvements in safety, reliability, and passenger experience.


Talking about the increasing shift of attention towards cybersecurity issues, what is your view on aviation safety and cybersecurity in a cyber-centric world?


In many ANSPs, cybersecurity threats are still primarily focused on attempts to compromise financial operations or obtain important business information. This means that there is still time to prepare the system by raising awareness of the dangers in the cyber world. Usually in countries like this, many presentations on this topic are often just about the list of regulations, giving the impression that it is something very distant and will come over time – which is a misconception. It is important for people to know what exactly is being defended and how it can be defended. Only then will they be aware of any changes in the functional system and exposure to threats. This is particularly important for ATSEP personnel, who can be first responders in the case of a cyber-attack on air traffic control systems.

Cyber protection is a concept that needs continuity. It is important to have a line of communication between generations that are dealing with these challenges now and the generations that will come in the future. That’s why the ATSEP association from Montenegro and the University of Montenegro have a close cooperation which has resulted in very popular lectures attended by many students but also by our colleagues employed in different aviation organizations like airports, airlines, and regulators in technical positions or in finance and administration.


Do you think the CNS/ATM occupational and technical domains should really be concerned about cybersecurity issues?


ANSPs that have implemented full IP connectivity, cloud-based infrastructure, and other advanced techniques have to take care of cybersecurity issues. Consequences of incidents like this must be predicted and implemented in contingency plans, along with any other unreliability of work or device failure. Along with preparing operational staff for these new challenges through education about this relatively new threat, these plans will bring additional value to the continuity and reliability of services.

For this reason, IFATSEA emphasises the importance of understanding the role of ATSEP personnel in predicting, detecting, and mitigating, if not eliminating, the consequences of cyber-attacks.


Does the Montenegro aviation industry have a framework in place for addressing cybersecurity issues?


Yes, the Montenegro aviation industry has a framework in place for addressing cybersecurity issues. All aviation entities in Montenegro closely collaborate on this matter. What is even more significant is that the state of Montenegro has started to systematically address this issue. It began with the preparation of a Law on Information Technologies harmonised with the NIS2 European standard. The establishment of a Cybersecurity Agency is underway, as well as the formation of a government CIRT with a SOC (Security Operation Center) function aimed at incident prevention. The CIRT team operates 24/7 and is equipped with a set of security tools, creating a cybersecurity ecosystem where all aviation entities will find their place and role. It is important to note that Montenegro will soon have a regional cyber security center, which is also a recognition of the quality work in this area.



Talking about air traffic safety electronics personnel (ATSEP) competencies, skills, training and certification or licensing, where exactly does Montenegro stand today?


When it comes to ATSEP competencies, skills, training, and certification or licensing, Montenegro currently has a clearly defined training program that is aligned with the latest European regulations. ATSEPs in Montenegro are required to undergo annual medical examinations due to the nature of working at heights. Despite having all the rights and obligations as if they already had licenses, ATSEPs in Montenegro still receive certificates of training from the ANSP because of the time needed to change the Air Traffic Law.

As a representative of the ATSEP personnel in this process, during the recent meeting, I personally received assurances from the Authorities that ATSEP personnel will be included in the Law where they rightfully belong – alongside other professions that directly impact air traffic and require licensing from the state.


From your perspective and given the increasing digitalisation and automation of the ATSEP working environment, would you rather favour a paradigm shift in the processes and frameworks for enhancing the competencies and honing the skills of ATSEPs?


There is no doubt that the job of ATSEP personnel will never be the same as it used to be in every segment. Digitalization and automation will impact preventive and corrective maintenance, calibration, or emergency equipment interventions. Many challenges we resolve now by remote access which was not the case once upon a time.

A new environment is being created in which ATSEP must feel comfortable in order to leave the space for reaction in case of unforeseen events that are inevitable in our job. The training program simply must be aligned with the challenges that the ATSEP position brings, as this reduces stress and fatigue at work. Work segments such as stress and fatigue are often not visible because ATSEP engaged in operational work do not speak enough about it or have anyone to turn to about it despite the fact that we are expected to react quickly and bring correct decision even while airplanes full of passengers are in the air. Therefore, I consider necessary the issues of enhancement of competencies and skills improvement, as well as the development of procedures for stress and fatigue in ATSEP personnel.


Now, let’s talk about your role as a member of the Executive Board of the International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (IFATSEA). As the Federation’s Treasurer, what specific plans do you have in place to consolidate IFATSEA financially?



Let’s start with the fact that I am an engineer-instructor, not an economist. However, I am proud that, in addition to the organizational skills I have developed as an officer in the army, I can help the Executive Board and IFATSEA itself through my knowledge and experience in the field of the ATSEP profession, which have been proven through participation in numerous working groups, and now through the financial management segment as the basis of functioning of any organization.

I have mastered the principles of business and financial management through the process of finding a business model for the ATSEP association in Montenegro. According to the model that is currently functioning, the association must contribute to society through initiatives and projects, creating an environment in which the association begins to provide funds for its activities on its own. Professional associations for various reasons have difficulties in organizing work that includes financial management, which is not the case with Trade Unions. Therefore, I am proud to say that the Montenegrin association has developed a unique model because its members do not pay membership fees, but funds for functioning and new ideas are provided through participation in different projects.

As for IFATSEA, it is time to direct its exceptional work and potential towards making that concrete contribution more visible to the community both at the global and regional level, as well as through assisting individual national organizations that are its members. In this way, we will work towards expanding our network to cover countries that have not had contact with IFATSEA so far. Additionally, we will offer corporate members various ideas and spaces to present their products for which they deserve global recognition within the ATSEP community. On the other hand, costs will be carefully planned and directed towards ensuring that every cost is an investment. I recognized the need for all the mentioned to be regulated by a specific regulation, which is why IFATSEA Executive Board developed internal financial regulation. I especially appreciate the strong support of all members of the Executive Board in everything mentioned, for which I am particularly grateful to them.


Could you please take our audience through the processes that culminated recently in IFATSEA getting formally registered in Montenegro and the struggle that went into the eventual opening of bank accounts for the Federation?


COVID-19 caught IFATSEA in the process of reorganization and opening an account in Germany. The process continued for various reasons even after the pandemic, leading to accumulating problems that almost completely paralyzed the organization’s work. The first gathering at the European level took place immediately after the end of the pandemic, in Montenegro. It was then that I learned that the situation was far from easy and that there had been no solution for a long time.

At that time, I had not even considered joining the Executive Board but I wanted to help so I nominated myself for the position of Treasurer, which was unanimously approved at the GA in Prague at the end of 2022. We welcomed the beginning of 2023 with the same problems, the duration of which could not be predicted, and the situation became even more critical as we received information that we could lose the financial resources that were held in the old account. Feeling responsible for the finances, I proposed to the Operations Committee that we initiate a contingency plan, which involved re-registering IFATSEA and opening an account in Montenegro.

The idea was accepted at an Executive Board meeting, after which I gathered a team in Montenegro to ensure the federation’s functioning as soon as possible. The federation quickly revived, and the Executive Board started to carry out its tasks. Since there were no indications that the initial plan would be implemented and the current situation was functioning well, the Executive Board decided that Montenegro would not be just a temporary but a permanent solution. This decision was officially validated at the GA in Buenos Aires in 2023. From that moment on, the headquarters of IFATSEA is in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.


Looking back, how would you describe the 51st IFATSEA General Assembly that took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina in November 2023?

The 51st IFATSEA General Assembly held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in November 2023 was a major challenge. It was the desire of colleagues from Argentina to organize this event for the first time in South America. This required additional commitment on all issues, including financial ones. Fortunately, the account in Montenegro was already prepared and preparations could begin.

This event was a great test that IFATSEA passed with flying colours in every sense. The hospitality of the hosts who were up to the task, the emotions felt at every step, tango and football made Buenos Aires and Argentina have a special place in the hearts of many of us. The General Assembly in Buenos Aires showed that our diversity is actually our strength and that the days of IFATSEA success are ahead of us. ◙