Cross-border trial to reduce holding times over London for Heathrow-bound aircraft reaps fuel and CO2 benefits
Three Heathrow holding stacks over London (graphic: NATS)
Fri 9 Jan 2015 – Aircraft approaching London’s Heathrow Airport spend an average of eight minutes circling in holdings stacks before their final descent that not only lead to delays but also extra fuel burn and CO2 emissions as well as noise impacts for communities underneath the stacks. A project led by NATS is aiming to cut average holding times by a quarter and the UK air traffic services provider reports that since April 2014 it has achieved reductions of up to a minute for those flights influenced by the trial. NATS says this has already saved airlines around £1 million ($1.5m) in fuel costs and 5,000 tonnes of CO2. The trial is being carried out as part of the UK-Ireland Functional Airspace Block (FAB) and in collaboration with FABEC and Heathrow Airport.
With Heathrow scheduled to 98% capacity, the airport relies on stacks to provide a continuous flow of traffic but in normal circumstances NATS can only influence an aircraft’s approach once it enters UK airspace, which may be only 80 miles out.
In the first step of a broader strategy to minimise holding times on arrival, the trial involves air traffic controllers in the UK, France, Ireland and the Netherlands working in partnership to slow aircraft down up to 350 miles away from London.
“Taking 60 seconds out of holding for trial-influenced aircraft may not seem a lot, but it is a significant achievement and equates to serious savings for our airline customers, while proving that this kind of cross-border cooperation can reap real benefits,” said Martin Rolfe, NATS Managing Director, Operations.
“The next steps involve us taking what we’ve learnt so far and improving our procedures for even greater results.”
In September, the trial entered a new phase in which the minimum stack delay threshold was reduced from nine minutes to seven and the maximum speed reduction raised to Mach 0.04 from 0.03.
The Brest Air Traffic Control Centre (ACC) has also joined the trial to take into account more inbound traffic.
“At the same time, under the umbrella of the SESAR [Single European Sky] programme, Reims UAC has refined the concept and introduced a new prototype for gathering London arrivals data and an improved radar trajectory prediction model,” reported Maurice Georges, CEO of DSNA, the French air navigation service provider (ANSP). “The ‘working together’ spirit is bringing real benefits to the community.”
Added Heathrow Airport’s Airside Director, Derek Provan: “This trial is a definitive step in the right direction towards quieter and more sustainable airline operations. We welcome the efforts NATS has made, and for working with us to make Heathrow a better neighbour to local residents.”
Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) are a key tool of the EU’s Single European Sky programme, aiming to help reduce the current fragmentation of air navigation service provision across Europe and increase efficiency and reduce costs to airspace users. The UK-Ireland FAB – which was established in 2008 and integrates traffic flows between the North Atlantic, domestic UK and Ireland, and the core European area – claims to have delivered savings of 73,000 tonnes of fuel and 232,000 tonnes of CO2 in its first four years.
The UK is a collaborating partner in the FABEC initiative that comprises civil and military ANSPs, including the Eurocontrol Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre, in six central European countries.