NAV CANADA’s Rudy Kellar discusses its AIRE project in partnership with the UK’s NATS and Air France aimed at boosting flight efficiency on busy North Atlantic routes.

As a flight transits the ocean, fuel is consumed and the aircraft becomes lighter, meaning that – assuming zero wind – the efficient flight level becomes higher.

An efficient flight profile would therefore feature a progressive or continuous altitude change and corresponding change in aircraft speed (Mach).

These two concepts on North Atlantic or NAT operations are being tested within the ENGAGE Corridor Project, a collaborative initiative involving Europe, the USA and Canada, aimed at improving the efficiency of the hundreds of thousands of flights that cross the North Atlantic each year.

Early results from flight trials which began in February 2011 and which continued throughout Spring last year showed that oceanic flights can save approximately 250 litres of fuel and 650 kilograms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per flight by varying Mach and altitude when compared to normal operations on similar trans-Atlantic flights.

“If only 3 per cent of the 350,000 flights which transit the North Atlantic airspace each year are able to vary Mach and altitude in a way that improves flight efficiency, that would result in an annual reduction of approximately 7,200 metric tons of GHG emissions and a saving of 2.7 million litres of fuel,” says Rudy Kellar, NAV CANADA vice president, operations.

ENGAGE will also assess the effects of expanded ADS-B surveillance on North Atlantic operations and how it contributes to implementation of both altitude and Mach concepts.

Kellar speaking at last year’s ATC Global conference in Amsterdam explained that it was back in May 2010 that NAV CANADA and its partners submitted a proposal to the SESAR Joint Undertaking which oversees the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions or AIRE as it is known.

The proposal was to expand the current AIRE Project – a joint agreement between the European Commission and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to include the busiest traffic flows in the North Atlantic.

“This presented an opportunity for the partners to perform flight trials and demonstrations to validate solutions for the reduction of CO2 emissions, and to use new NAV CANADA ADS-B technology to reduce aircraft separation, thereby increasing airspace capacity,” explains Kellar.

It is this additional capacity that can create opportunities for some NAT flights to vary Mach and altitude, and to potentially realize fuel savings and reductions in GHG emissions.

ENGAGE is actually an acronym for “Europe and North America Go ADS-B for a Greener Environment” and is the key focus of the current flight trials.

The ENGAGE Corridor Project flight trials was assessed in terms of:

  • safety
  • feasibility
  • fuel
  • GHG emissions

The actual airline flight trial data results were compared to “normal” operations with similar flights within this corridor.

A quick snapshot of current oceanic operations in the NAT today shows there are more than 500 aircraft crossing the NAT in each direction, each day, adding up to approximately 350,000 flights annually.

Half of this traffic in the NAT travels on an Organized Track Structure (OTS), while the remaining 50 per cent are on Random Routes with air traffic service limited in the flexibility it has to respond to requests for changes in flight level, route and speed, due the limits on available airspace capacity.

And, as Kellar explains, while there is high frequency communications with aircraft and the continuing emergence of data link technology, there is still close to four hours of flying time where there is no surveillance.

“The ENGAGE Corridor Project is an opportunity to re-think and modify how we handle North Atlantic traffic,” he says. “For example, rather than fixed routings, constant Mach and level altitude for the four hour NAT crossing, there are opportunities to trial reduced aircraft separation and earlier climbs.”

One of the enabling technologies to offer this opportunity is ADS-B, which provides surveillance. This allows for increased airspace capacity that will help to create opportunities to respond to requests for changes in altitude and speed.

“By collaborating with partners, by using emerging technology, and by applying lessons learned to develop best practices, we are opening the door to the potential of improved performance and more efficient operations,” says Kellar.

It is this new surveillance that will create opportunities to increase airspace capacity, allowing aircraft to request higher altitudes and Mach variation.

The increased capacity within the new surveillance area opens up ‘spaces’ just outside of it where there were none before and it is these spaces which give aircraft the chance to request to climb or vary Mach to improve performance.

Kellar adds that there are two other key pieces of the puzzle that help create efficiencies.

The first is the Gander Automated Air Traffic System (GAATS), an advanced oceanic air traffic system which automates flight data processing, enabling controllers to manage both random and track based traffic in a paperless environment. Recent enhancements to GAATS are helping to redefine the interaction between aircraft and air traffic control.

These enhancements include:

  • conflict prediction which provides another layer of safety;
  • further integration of ADS-C (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Contract), CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link Communication), DCPC (Direct Controller Pilot Communication) via high power VHF transmitter receivers with ADS-B allowing a faster response to customer requests, and
  • features allowing for the phased implementation of Reduced Longitudinal Separation Minimum (RLongSM) which will enhance efficiency and permit equipped aircraft to request optimal flight profiles.

The other piece of the puzzle is across the ocean.

SAATS, the Shanwick Automated Air Traffic System is based on GAATS technology and operates at the NATS Oceanic Area Control Centre in Prestwick, Scotland.

It provides air traffic control service in the eastern portion of the North Atlantic airspace, allowing a seamless transition for aircraft.

Kellar points out that to successfully conduct these trials, a collaborative approach is not only necessary, but essential.

The ENGAGE Corridor Project involves all key elements of a successful collaboration: the ANSPs – NATS and NAV CANADA; their customers, specifically Air France, Air Canada, British Airways, Delta and United Airlines; the use of modern oceanic ATM systems with enhanced flight management and flight planning systems, and the addition of new, advanced and expanded surveillance.

Initial demonstration flights were conducted on UN World Environment Day on 5 June, 2010, with two special flights by United Airlines which were designed to demonstrate more flexible and efficient routing, and use of altitude to allow the aircraft to save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Total fuel savings while in Canadian airspace for both UAL flights 945 and 944 was 900 litres and two metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. A similar trial flight – the AIRE A380 trial – with partner Air France occurred in November 2010.

The ENGAGE Corridor Project includes the following phases:

  • Phase 1, which was approved December 2010, and included pre-ops validation and proof of concept NAT flight
  • Phase 2 which began in Spring 2011 and includes 20 to 30 operational flight trials and multiple flight simulation trials.

What are the next steps following completion of the trials?

Kellar says the complete flight trial results were compiled, the data analysed and shared.

“We want to be proactive and communicate results to all stakeholders. It will help us to continue what is now a successful dialogue within the industry and it allows us to leverage the knowledge and expertise of all parties to create more opportunities to reduce emissions,” he says.

ENGAGE also met with its partners in ICAO in Montréal, Canada in May last year to review the findings and results.

“This international project demonstrates that ‘collaboration equals innovation’ – a powerful and an appropriate description of what is happening in air traffic management today,” says Kellar.

Closer to home, Kellar explains that NAV CANADA is continuing its efforts to collaborate and innovate for improved performance with a series of initiatives it calls CIFER or Collaborative Initiatives for Emissions Reductions.

These initiatives have been specifically identified for their use of new technologies and procedures to obtain demonstrated delivery of efficiency gains and the benefits accrued from their implementation, including cost savings and reductions in GHG emissions.

A first status report on these initiatives was published in 2009, with an update released in January 2011. In the 2011 CIFER report GHG reductions and fuel savings to 2016 are forecast in the order of 13.4 million metric tons of GHG emissions and $4.3 billion in fuel savings.

Looking ahead, Kellar expects to realize additional efficiency benefits and emissions reductions by shifting from ground-based navigation to satellite-based navigation and area navigation procedures, continuing to improve surveillance through current and emerging technologies, reducing delays, and improving operational efficiency in departure, en route and arrival phases.

“In order to achieve these results, our major focus in the nearer term will be on achieving optimum routes; minimizing ground delays, increasing airspace capacity and increasing airport capacity and efficiency,” says Kellar. “And to do this we will be relying on close collaboration with our partners – our customers, our employees, our stakeholders and industry partners.”

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