IATA's new iFlex programme looks to reduce fuel burn by 2 percent on long-haul flights by shortening routes
Emirates’ technically advanced Boeing 777-200LR operates on the near 15-hour flight between Dubai and Sao Paulo
Thu 23 Sept 2010 – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has launched its iFlex programme in a bid to overcome the constraints imposed by traditional fixed airspace structures by using flexible flight planning in low-density airspace. Early modelling of iFlex suggests that airlines operating a 10-hour intercontinental flight can cut the flight time by six minutes, reduce fuel burn by as much as 2 percent and save 3,000kg of CO2 emissions. The South Atlantic and Africa will be the initial focus of the programme, concentrating on the Johannesburg-Atlanta and Dubai-Sao Paulo routes, and a pilot project is planned for 2011. The launch was announced at last week’s Aviation & Environment Summit in Geneva, where UK ATC company NATS disclosed its emission reduction programme had saved 50,000 tonnes of CO2 last year.
The increasing range of ultra long-haul flights by modern aircraft with enhanced navigational capabilities make a compelling case, argues IATA, to get away from fixed airways and utilize alternative plans that can adapt to the changing nature of upper wind patterns, which have a direct influence on fuel burn and emissions.
Sophisticated airline flight planning systems now have the capability to predict and validate optimum daily routings, both within airlines and ATC facilities. Likewise, ground systems used by air traffic centres have significantly improved their levels of communication and surveillance systems.
IATA says iFlex builds on the experience gained through demonstration ‘perfect flights’ with solutions that can be implemented across several ATC operators in day-to-day operating conditions and using current technology. All new flexible routes generated will be validated in real-time for notices to pilots, airspace restrictions and en-route weather conditions. The resulting flight plans generated will use a combination of existing infrastructure, waypoints and fixed-airways with new flexible routes where possible to obtain an optimized plan trajectory given the prevailing winds for that period.
In the coming months, IATA will work closely with airlines, ICAO, air navigation service providers and governments on proof-of-concept work, which will include data analysis and route simulation using modern flight planning tools. In next year’s pilot project, actual flights will be able to plan and fly an airline-derived flight trajectory in proof-of-concept.
In 2008, the UK’s NATS became the first air traffic control provider to set targets to reduce air traffic CO2 emissions by an average of 10% per flight by 2020. In its second annual report published last week, NATS says it is on course to achieve the target and calculates annual savings of 50,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2009. The report also details how the company staged the first ‘perfect flight’ between London Heathrow and Edinburgh, to demonstrate an ideal fuel-saving trajectory for aircraft (see story).
“The work we are doing not only removes CO2 from the atmosphere, it also means cheaper fuel bills for the airlines and greener airport operations,” said NATS Chief Executive Richard Deakin at the Aviation & Environment Summit.
“NATS has devised the toolkit to measure the emissions produced by our network – no other air traffic controller has done this. In a way, this is the key to unlock air traffic systems across the world to see where and how savings can be achieved.”
He added that other companies had already approached NATS to learn from its approach in both its air network plans and a project to make the company’s buildings and day-to-day activities carbon neutral by 2011.
The report also highlights how 150 fuel-saving suggestions from airlines and NATS staff are being put into practice and covers the partnership with the Irish Aviation Authority to create Europe’s first functional airspace block.