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Plotting a New Flight Path: AIS to AIM Service Transformation Strategy

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the same organization that developed the paper-centric aviation environment, launched a worldwide initiative in 2009 to elevate and transform aeronautical information from a paper product into a dynamic, data-centric system of timely, interoperable data to drive global aviation innovation.

As an aviation innovator, NAV CANADA welcomed ICAO’s ambitious initiative. At issue, however, was how to successfully implement the technical and organizational changes required to meet ICAO’s goals and its clearly defined methods regarding the collection, management, and publication of data.

Indeed, the global strategy not only presented strategic technological implications for NAV CANADA’s Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) department, it also required a high level of cross-organizational collaboration and support in order for AIM to successfully meet the global goals.

NAV CANADA’s AIM department sought the support of Spatial DNA in 2013 to help establish a high-level planning framework that would help the organization navigate from its existing capabilities to the new global standard. Designed to provide a long-term view of the final destination and the short-term steps along the way, AIM now has a detailed, yet flexible roadmap and the framework to foster integration with other NAV CANADA departments to achieve the required transformation.


NAV CANADA became the world’s first fully privatized civil air navigation service provider (ANSP) in 1996. It is the world’s second-largest ANSP by traffic volume, serving 40,000 customers and managing more than 18 million square kilometers of domestic airspace and international airspace assigned to Canadian control. As part of that airspace, NAV CANADA manages the North Atlantic, the world’s busiest oceanic airspace with some 1,200 flights crossing to and from the European continent daily.

Instrumental in enabling NAV CANADA to consistently meet its responsibilities is its AIM department, which is responsible for aggregating and maintaining all static aeronautical data for the entire country. Its staff of 108 professionals routinely produces and provides essential information for pilots, including more than 40 publications and chart titles, more than 2,700 instrument procedures and airways, along with data for 1,800 aerodromes across Canada.


The operating focus of AIM has traditionally, been meeting its relentless deadlines for producing five different types of aeronautical charts, the seven-volume Canada Air Pilot procedures manual, and a variety of other publications –– many of which are updated and published in paper form every 56 days. Within those 56 days, there are typically 20,000-40,000 individual changes that need to be incorporated in time to meet the next publication date. The new strategy would require much of that paper to be replaced with digital, data-driven solutions that offer timely, interoperable aeronautical data.

Although NAV CANADA’s AIM has implemented some ICAO-based technological and operational innovations, the daily deluge of tactical details and deadlines made it difficult for personnel to distance themselves from their short-term, immediate tasks in order to craft cross-organizational solutions that incorporate the longer, strategic view of an ambitious AIM transformation.

To successfully redefine the AIM department’s operational flight path, it needed to have a technological, organizational, and collaborative framework that would enable it to fundamentally transform its paper-centric approach into a data-driven system based on interoperable aeronautical data. The strategy needed to map AIM’s present location on its transformation journey, plot a roadmap to its ultimate destination, show the cross-organizational dependencies and provide customized navigational charts to guide them to their final destination. Equally important was that the framework included clear, effective communication tools for AIM to present its vision and enable key internal groups to collaborate, offer informed support, and grow the process organically.


NAV CANADA tasked Spatial DNA in December 2013 to create a strategic planning framework that would set both AIM and the organization on a well-defined path to a dynamic data flow. To achieve that, Spatial DNA created its own “25,000-foot view” of ICAO’s global vision and NAV CANADA’s local operational objectives in order to develop a customized and concise five-year roadmap.

After acquiring a deeper understanding and appreciation of NAV CANADA’s business and goals and relating that to ICAO’s global strategy, Spatial DNA determined that a high-level framework needed to address the services piece (product deliverables) and the business operations piece of the organization to enable AIM to refocus and optimize its business structure and operational approach.

Spatial DNA’s planning strategy identifies technologies to consider and implement that will help AIM displace its paper-centric environment with an ICAO-aligned data-centric environment. Designed to redefine its approach to aeronautical information, from data creation to overall management, the services component provides a simple, yet flexible roadmap and offers the tools for personnel to visualize and prioritize initiatives, to communicate the initiatives to colleagues, and develop the collaborative environment to implement innovations holistically.

In parallel, Spatial DNA’s framework targets NAV CANADA’s traditional “business as usual” principles and provides a customized guide to help reorient the organization’s focus and culture to support their plan. The strategy clearly shows how the overall AIM plan connects key departments, defines the roles of departments as initiatives are rolled out, helps determine where specific resources are needed to achieve initiatives, and provide communication tools to ensure key stakeholders are all aboard.

To provide flexibility for such a fluid business, Spatial DNA’s strategy also included a capability measurement framework to enable NAV CANADA’s AIM to self-assess their service and business maturity over time.


With this simple, yet detailed planning framework, AIM management had both the documented direction and the roadmap to enable them to secure executive and cross-organizational buy-in to launch their five-year transformation plan.

As Spatial DNA’s framework clearly lays out needed innovations and departmental roles, AIM personnel can readily understand initiatives which AIM should lead, ones which it should support, and areas where it should influence, allowing them the opportunity to properly prepare for those roles or make alternative recommendations.

With the visual communication tools provided, AIM personnel can also present the clearly defined roles and connections to other key interdependent departments such as systems engineering groups, giving them the opportunity to voice their approval or flag issues needing more consultation.

By providing a flexible framework able to incorporate department-specific considerations and accommodate changes, the strategy fully engages AIM and its key stakeholders and enables them to constructively and confidently prioritize initiatives, choose the optimal paths forward and establish needed resources, both technologically and organizationally, to implement their best practices.

In short, AIM’s new strategy helps personnel to think beyond their own department and act strategically across the enterprise to effectively integrate the long view of the dynamic, data-driven AIM into the short, desktop view of their daily operations.