UK’s NATS delivers further fuel and emissions reductions in 2011 en route to 10 per cent target by 2020
Mon 16 Apr 2012 – The past year has proved a busy time for the UK’s air navigation service provider (ANSP) NATS as it endeavours to make good on a long-term pledge to reduce air traffic related CO2 emissions by an average 10 per cent per flight by 2020. The company’s 2012 Corporate Responsibility report just published highlights that over 100 operational and procedural changes in air traffic flows have resulted in savings of around 115,000 tonnes of CO2 since 2009, worth £22 million ($35m) in fuel savings to airlines. In 2011, 26 changes made at NATS’ Swanwick and Prestwick air traffic control centres enabled savings of 19,000 tonnes of fuel and 60,000 tonnes of emissions. The launch in January of a metric that financially incentivises NATS to reduce air traffic emissions has already received recognition as a meaningful, results-led environmental collaboration of aviation sectors working together and an example for other ANSPs to follow.
“Our environmental performance permeates everything we do at the company,” NATS CEO Richard Deakin told GreenAir during the recent Aviation & Environment Summit in Geneva. “It’s a key priority for all our employees.”
The flight efficiency metric, called the 3-Dimensional inefficiency score, or 3Di, extends the existing European horizontal flight efficiency metric to include vertical elements. As well as measuring the most direct point-to-point routings, 3Di seeks to account for the benefits delivered by air traffic controllers delivering continuous climb departures, cruise levels as requested by airspace users and continuous descents. The really interesting, and so far unique, feature behind 3Di is that it will be used to financially reward, or even penalise, NATS depending on whether airlines save fuel as a result of its performance in driving efficiencies.
The metric is a result of a herculean task over nearly three years by a NATS team, along with input from the ANSP representative body CANSO, Eurocontrol and ICAO, reports Ian Jopson, Head of Environmental & Community Affairs at NATS. “This is part of a long-term programme we started back in 2008,” he said. “We weren’t regulated to do it – we just saw it as the right thing to do for our industry and as a company.”
Since the start of 2010, the 3Di score has been calculated for each flight in UK airspace and further large samples of operations have been analysed for every year going back to 2006 and has involved computations on around one billion radar data points. As part of the process of testing the 3Di score’s performance in the UK network, a ‘perfect flight’ trial was undertaken in July 2010 between London Heathrow and Edinburgh in collaboration with British Airways and airport operator BAA. Fuel savings of around 12% were identified in the aircraft flight data recorder and computed using the NATS KERMIT emissions modelling system.
Throughout the metric development process, NATs operational staff were closely involved to understand ways that 3Di reductions can be targeted during periods out to 2015.
Finally confident of its metric, NATS was able to put forward a performance scheme proposal to its regulator, the UK CAA, and airline customers in August 2011. After further tweaking, an agreed metric criteria was reached and was deemed suitable for financial regulation as part of the NATS UK en-route licence to operate air traffic services.
The incentive scheme became operational on January 1, a date that coincided with the inclusion of aircraft operators into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, noted Deakin. “The timing was absolutely right,” he said. “This ground-breaking project is delivering a win-win for us and our airline customers.”
Despite the complexities involved in arriving at the metric, the financial incentive itself is simple to understand and calculate. A target, or par, score of 24 has been agreed between the three parties, with a ‘dead band’ either side of the par to allow for elements that are beyond NATS control, such as runway capacity constraints or bad weather. Reducing the score to 21 is estimated to save airlines around £63 million ($100m), and will “lead into bonus territory,” explains Jopson. NATS will earn a further bonus for each subsequent point reduction. Conversely, it will face financial penalties for every point exceeding the par score, “if we don’t deliver on our airspace improvements.”
The maximum bonus NATS can earn is £2.4 million ($3.8m) and the maximum penalty is £4.8 million ($7.6m), with bonuses funded from service charges paid by airlines and penalties in the form of refunds. To ensure transparency and public accountability, performance results will be posted quarterly on the NATS website.
As well as operational and procedural improvements to air traffic flows in the Swanwick, Prestwick and Oceanic regions, a new generation of advanced controller support tools, called iFACTS, became fully operational at Swanwick in November 2011. These provide decision-making support and help controllers manage their routine workload, allowing the controller to check better climb profiles so an aircraft reaches cruising levels sooner and with fewer step climbs, providing fuel and environmental benefits.
The UK-Ireland Functional Airspace Block (FAB), the first to be established under the Single European Sky initiative, is estimated to have enabled 48,000 tonnes of fuel savings and 152,000 tonnes in emissions reductions since becoming operational in July 2008.
On the ground, NATS last year established local environment action plans for the 15 airport ATC units where it provides services. During 2012, it says it will complete the work to create a baseline figure for environmental performance at each airport unit and quantify for the first time the units’ collective contribution to NAT’s overall 10% CO2 reduction target.
In 2011, NATS handled 2.2 million flights covering the UK and eastern North Atlantic, and claims to be the first ATM organisation in the world to set environmental targets.