Eurocontrol’s new direct routes to save over one million flight kilometres and 12,000 tonnes of CO2 annually
FRAM coverage map (graphic: Eurocontrol)
Wed 16 Mar 2011 – The Eurocontrol Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) has implemented 142 new direct routes that are expected to substantially reduce flight times, fuel burn and emissions in high-density European airspace. The development is the first stage of the Free Route Airspace Maastricht (FRAM) programme, which aims to put in place a direct route network for 24/7 operations. For safety reasons, the new routes will be used initially during the least busy hours of the night and from the end of the year they will be extended for weekend use. Eurocontrol says savings from this first phase are estimated at 1.16 million kilometres per year, resulting in reductions of 3,700 tonnes of jet fuel, 12,000 tonnes of CO2 and 37 tonnes of NOx.
Recent studies have demonstrated that air routes in Europe are not optimally designed. Extended air routes are due to several factors, for example sub-optimal airspace design, inefficient city pairs, constraints related to the need for civil and military airspace users to share the airspace, inappropriate flight planning and route utilisation or route restrictions. In 2009 a flight’s route was on average 47.6km (or 5.4%) too long compared to its optimum flight trajectory.
For several decades MUAC air traffic controllers – who provide control for the upper airspace (above 24,500 feet) of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and north-west Germany – have been offering aircraftoperators direct routes as far as possible. However these routes –or direct clearances – have not been reflected in the flight plan,which has always referred to the fixed route network. The 142 new direct routes, which add to the 40 direct routes already deployed in the MUAC airspace as part of the FABEC Night Route Network, will allow aircraft operators to flight-plan these routes.
The introduction of the FABEC (Functional Airspace Block Europe Central – the busiest area of Europe’s nine FABs) Night Route Network is one of the most significant core European initiatives to improve airspace design and network management, and to reduce flight route extension. At the end of 2010, some 115 new routes were implemented as part of the programme, shortening total flight distance by 1.5 million kilometres a year and resulting in savings of 4,800 tonnes of fuel and 16,000 tonnes of CO2.
The FRAM programmecomplements the FABEC Night Network programme and providesan initial operational validation for conceptual elementsof the SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic ManagementResearch) Air Traffic Management Target Concept. FRAM istherefore a first step towards the implementation of aircraftoperators’ preferred business trajectories, which will allowpilots to choose their entry and exit points freely in a givenairspace and fly their preferred route.
Eric Platteau of the SESAR Joint Undertaking interviews European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, who is responsible for transport, about the importance of the Single European Sky project in reforming European air traffic management: