Environmental efficiency initiatives rewarded as NATS targets improvements in UK flight performance
Thu 1 Nov 2012 – UK air traffic management services provider NATS has received the Best Environmental Initiative award from the Airport Operators’ Association for its Flight Profile Monitor (FPM) system. FPM enables airports and airlines that have previously had little or no information about the environmental performance of arriving and departing aircraft to use data to support the drive to reduce noise and CO2 emissions. Initial results from a trial at Edinburgh Airport estimated a 20% improvement in continuous descent approaches could be achieved, which would save an estimated 8,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. NATS is also to take part in trials with British Airways to carry out a series of environmentally ‘perfect’ flights from London Heathrow across the North Atlantic over the course of four months. Meanwhile, the ANSP says latest data relating to its 3DI flight efficiency metric shows it is on course to meet its environmental target for 2012.
The FPM Edinburgh trial earlier this year showed that while 95% of departures achieved continuous climb – the most environmentally efficient flight profile, says NATS – only 55% of arrivals made a continuous descent approach (CDA). It is estimated that the 20% improvement in CDAs would, in addition to the 8,000 tonnes of CO2 saved, result in fuel savings to airlines worth £150,000 ($242,000) per year, along with reductions in noise to communities under the arrival flight path.
While work is continuing at Edinburgh, including improvements to the radar service, NATS is planning to roll out the flight path monitoring system to other airports in the UK as part of its environmental programme.
In 2010, NATS took part in the Perfect Flight project in which a BA Heathrow to Edinburgh flight was environmentally optimised through all stages of the journey and saved a quarter of a tonne of fuel and nearly one tonne of CO2. Building on the single flight experience, NATS is to lead the TOPFLIGHT project, working alongside other members of the aviation industry in the UK, Canada and the United States, including BA and Canadian ANSP NAVCANADA. The project has been instigated under the SESAR programme, the technical and operational component of the EU’s Single European Sky initiative to modernise and harmonise European airspace.
The first phase of the project will see 60 transatlantic flights optimised to achieve minimal emissions and delay through procedures starting at pushback from the stand and taxi to an optimised flight profile and a CDA at a number of North American airports. It is expected that each flight will save around 500kg in fuel, equivalent to nearly 1.6 tonnes of CO2. Phase two will look to introduce multiple perfect flights crossing the Atlantic simultaneously, with the aim of proving the concept is scalable and can be implemented for many flights at the same time without penalising those in the surrounding airspace.
In cooperation with the FAA’s NextGen Implementation Plan, SESAR will look to expand the programme to include flights to Boston Logan International and New York JF Kennedy International airports and create a sustainable gate-to-gate perfect flight concept across the North Atlantic.
NATS has been monitoring the environmental performance and flight efficiency of flights under its control since the beginning of this year through the 3Di efficiency metric it has developed. Data for the third quarter just released shows that during the first nine months in operation a 3Di score of 23.9 was achieved against a target of 24, as based on the scale set by the UK CAA. This represents an improvement of 0.1 compared to the results from the first six months of 2012.
In advance agreement with the CAA, the 3Di performance excluded activity during the Olympic Games because of temporary airspace arrangements around London that were designed to help increase capacity and minimise delays but at the possible expense of airspace efficiency.
3Di helps air traffic controllers to route aircraft as close to the environmental optimum as possible by accurately measuring the efficiency of each flight in UK airspace. It compares the actual trajectory an aircraft takes from radar data with an optimal profile that measures the benefits of a smooth continuous descent or climb, cruise levels as requested by pilots and the most direct point-to-point routings. The 3Di metric scores range from 0, which represents a perfectly efficient flight, to over 100, with most flights typically between 15 and 35.
NATS says the current results indicate it is on course to deliver reductions of 600,000 tonnes of CO2 by 2014 and savings of £120 million ($194 million) in airline fuel bills. The ANSP financially benefits too from exceeding the CAA target but can also be penalised for failing to deliver the expected efficiency gains, the only air traffic service in the world to be incentivised in this way, points out NATS.
“These latest results show that the new procedures our controllers are following do make a difference,” said Ian Jopson, Head of Environmental Affairs at NATS.