UK airspace changes and Heathrow arrivals procedure will lessen environmental impact, say CAA and NATS
Fri 18 Dec 2015 – A NATS trial project to slow aircraft down up to 350 miles from London in order to cut holding times at Heathrow Airport has proved successful enough for it to be brought into permanent operational service. The cross-border arrivals management procedure, called XMAN, involves NATS air traffic controllers in the UK working with their counterparts in France, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Since the project started in April 2014, NATS says holding times for those aircraft impacted by the trial have been reduced by up to a minute, equating to savings of 8,000 tonnes of CO2 and £1.65 million ($2.4m) in fuel costs. The UK CAA, meanwhile, has approved major airspace changes covering eastern and southern England that will enable aircraft to fly more efficiently, help reduce the number of low-level flights and so reduce their environmental impact.
With Heathrow at 98% of its scheduled capacity, stacking provides the necessary continuous flow of traffic into the airport, but NATS says it can only influence an aircraft’s approach once it enters UK airspace, which can be as close at 80 miles away. By absorbing delay in the en-route phase, when aircraft are higher and so more fuel-efficient, emissions can be saved and noise impacts minimised, adds the ANSP.
Led by NATS at its Swanwick and Prestwick centres, the project is an inter-FAB (Functional Airspace Block) collaboration between the UK-Ireland FAB and FABEC, with partners DSNA in France, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), Eurocontrol in Maastricht and Heathrow Airport. XMAN has not yet been made permanent with the IAA, which is expected in September next year following the implementation of electronic data transfer technology by NATS.
XMAN is a key SESAR concept as part of the Single European Sky initiative, which will require 24 airports across Europe to deploy XMAN procedures by 2024.
“Even though the system is now in full operational service, we will continue to make enhancements that will help us deliver even greater time, fuel and emission savings,” said Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director at the NATS Swanwick control centre.
Jon Proudlove, Interim Airside Director at Heathrow, said: “Our work is not done yet and we will keep working with NATS and other partners to not only maximise the environmental benefits of leading-edge tools like this, but also how they support our delivery to plan, ensuring a world-class passenger experience at Heathrow.”
During the recent COP21 climate conference in Paris, NATS became the first air navigation service provider to sign up to an international voluntary framework committing to transparently report its greenhouse gas emissions performance. The initiative is led by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
NATS says it is already implementing the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol to standardise how it identifies and calculates GHG emissions and will now also voluntarily report this information using the Climate Change Reporting Framework.
The ANSP has in place an environmental target to reduce air traffic related CO2 emissions by 10% in 2020.
The airspace changes approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are the first major development of the UK’s Future Airspace Strategy (FAS), which is aimed at modernising airspace by 2020. It is part of a European project to improve airspace infrastructure to deliver a more efficient use of airspace and enable environmental improvements, including fuel and CO2 savings, by aircraft flying more direct routes, together with faster climbs and descents that will also reduce noise impacts on the overflown. The FAS aims to save over 160,000 tonnes of fuel and 500,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
The new changes will see aircraft using London City Airport flying over the Thames Estuary for significantly longer and so reducing noise for many, claims the CAA, and aircraft departing from London Stansted to the south-east will climb higher sooner. The CAA estimates this will save around 30,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. In total, five changes have been approved, affecting aircraft using seven airports in the south-east of England, and will be implemented on 4 February 2016.
“We absolutely understand that aircraft noise disturbs many people. These changes move significant numbers of flights away from populated areas and will reduce overall emissions,” said the CAA’s Head of Airspace, Air Traffic Management & Aerodromes, Phil Roberts.
“As we have done with this decision, we will continue to consider the environmental impact of all our airspace decisions and have called on the aviation industry and other decision-makers to be much more ambitious in confronting aviation’s environmental challenges.”