UK industry group Sustainable Aviation and NATS launch initiative to improve continuous descent performance
EasyJet has undertaken CDO trials at Bristol International
Thu 3 July 2014 – Industry group Sustainable Aviation (SA) has launched a campaign to increase the number of Continuous Descent Operations (CDOs) at airports across the United Kingdom. The UK’s air navigation services provider (ANSP) NATS is leading the project that aims to increase CDOs by an overall 5 per cent at the 15 airports under its control. The additional 30,000 flights implementing the procedure could save an estimated annual 10,000 tonnes of CO2 and around £2 million ($3.4m) in fuel costs, as well as result in quieter aircraft arrivals. Up until recently much of the focus has been on implementing Continuous Descent Approaches (CDAs) once aircraft descend below 6,000 feet and the emphasis is on achieving quieter arrivals, whereas CDOs typically commence from the top of an aircraft’s descent, at around 20,000 feet, and can lead to significant fuel and emissions savings.
According to NATS, a continuous descent from 6,000 feet can reduce noise by one to five decibels and save around 250kgs of fuel, whereas from 20,000 feet the savings can amount to around one tonne of fuel, worth around £650 ($1,100) and three tonnes of CO2.
The number of CDAs performed by aircraft arriving at UK airports, particularly at London’s four main airports, has increased sharply over recent years. According to NATS data, the average number of aircraft performing CDAs at the London airports rose from 66% in 2000 to 84% in 2006, and last year made up 90% of the total. By contrast, the average of all 15 UK airports, including the London four, improved from 54% in 2006 to 74% in 2013. The purpose of the campaign, says SA, is therefore to increase the consistency of CDAs throughout the country as well as improve descent profiles from higher altitudes.
Under the project, NATS will work with other SA members – airlines, airports and aerospace manufacturers – in a cross-industry initiative to progress and monitor CDO performance.
“Achieving the 5% target will require close collaboration and joint effort between pilots, air traffic controllers and airport operators,” explained Carrie Harris, Head of ATM Environment at NATS. “Significant improvements in CDO have already been accomplished over time, particularly at the four major London airports and we’ve also seen great success on smaller scale trials such as with easyJet at Bristol, so it is doable. The key is to drive the campaign simultaneously across NATS, airlines and at every UK airport, and sustain momentum so continuous progress across the country can be achieved.”
Harris said there was no set date by which the target should be met but believed there was room for “ample improvement” over the next two years.
“UK Government, the industry regulator and local community groups have called for the aviation industry to do more in the short term to demonstrate action to reduce noise impacts,” said Jonathon Counsell, Chair of the Sustainable Aviation Council. “CDO has been identified by Sustainable Aviation as a key opportunity to mitigate noise, and therefore we are championing this CDO action plan UK-wide.”
Meanwhile, the Flight Efficiency Partnership, a group made up of NATS, airlines and flight planning providers set up to identify practical ways of improving flight efficiency and cutting fuel costs, has reported 19,000 tonnes of fuel savings in the past year, beating its 18,000 tonne target. Last year, the group established changes to route restrictions and raised standing agreements allowing airlines to accurately plan in line with real-world procedures.
“Working with our customers to improve the efficiency of our airspace means they can flight plan more accurately, therefore needing less fuel to begin with and then burning less fuel in flight,” said Andy Shand, NATS General Manager of Customer Affairs.
NATS is aiming to reduce air traffic related emissions by on average 10% per flight by 2020 from a 2006 baseline. To date, it has enabled over 400,000 tonnes of fuel savings, worth over £270 million ($460m) to the airlines, and 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.