Going Large

Eurocontrol reports on how a pioneering project to offer aircraft operators direct flights and user-preferred routings (UPRs) across a huge part of Europe’s airspace, stretching from Poland to the UK, is underway with a consortium between MUAC, the DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung Karlsruhe upper area control centre and Lufthansa.
While there are several free route initiatives underway throughout Europe, the “Free Route Airspace Maastricht and Karlsruhe” (FRAMaK) project, which was initiated in June 2012 in a two-year contract with the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU), has a number of unique attributes.
It is the first free-route programme which aims to offer cross-border direct (DCT) routes in the busy and complex core area of Europe, essentially doing away with the boundary between the areas of responsibility of MUAC and Karlsruhe for those aircraft operators taking advantage of the new, direct routes. FRAMaK will also demonstrate the feasibility of UPRs, allowing aircraft operators the fly the most efficient routes to e.g. exploit prevailing weather conditions for fuel efficiency.
“Out of all the free route airspace initiatives underway in Europe at the moment this is in the most complex airspace,” said Theo Hendriks, MUAC Local Project Manager. Our solutions will be quite helpful for the implementation of free route operations in many other areas in Europe.”
“A first set of more than 150 new cross-border direct routes will become available in December 2012,” said Morten Grandt, FRAMaK Global Project Manager at the DFS. “Like MUAC, Karlsruhe has been offering direct routes for some time now but this is the first time these will be offered across the border. There were more than 770,000 flights in 2011 which crossed the border between the two centres. At the start of the programme we will introduce these routes mostly through the Karlsruhe East Sectors but that still means that 225,000 flights a year, to a significant extent, will be able make use of these FRAMaK directs.”
According to Raymund Obst, Lufthansa Local Project Manager, “We anticipate that on the planning side we will have much better predictability, there will be an overall reduction in fuel burn and eventually, with the introduction of total free route operations, we will be able to get away from the ATS network altogether. The FRAMaK project will allow us to gain experience on the potential benefits from this, including calculating when to use direct routes and when to take up the option, en route, of UPRs to exploit jet-streams, for example. We aim to pioneer such total free route options in the third or fourth quarter of 2013.”
On top of the cross-border directs available to all aircraft operators, the FRAMaK consortium members are planning to operate 50 UPRs with Lufthansa Airbus A320s, looking at the business and operational cost/benefit equation from operating UPR flights. UPRs go beyond just “direct routing” and allow for user-preferred trajectory planning, without reference to a fixed route network by using any intermediate sequence of way points, whether or not published.
The trial is an integral part of the SESAR business-trajectory experimental concept and FRAMaK consortium members believe the new procedures could offer early results to the validity of the concept. “For UPRs, we will first try to find the benefit for these dedicated flights in terms of fuel burn and balance that against the effort and other consequences involved in accommodating such flights,” said Morten Grandt. “We will be able to look at the trade-off between direct routes, the current ATS network and UPRs.”
“We need to understand what airlines really need – are they looking for shorter routes in all cases or can longer ones be more efficient in certain cases?,” according to Jürgen Regner, the Karlsruhe UAC’s Local Project Manager.
The first stage is to connect the current Free Route Airspace Maastricht (FRAM) direct route network with its Karlsruhe equivalent, the Free Route Airspace Karlsruhe (FRAK) network, with at the same time taking every opportunity to improve connections resulting in shorter overall routes. In the preliminary stages aircraft will cross the border using pre-set coordination points but eventually the consortium members plan to introduce new flexible crossing points to make flight lengths even shorter. One challenge is to maximise the availability of these routes up to 24 hours a day. New transitional routes to connect FRAMaK airspace with the major airports below, including Frankfurt, Brussels, Amsterdam and Munich, will also be introduced.
“The important point is not just the actual number of new direct routes that become available but the effects with regard to route extension and additional fuel burn in relation to the volumes of traffic,” said Morten Grandt. “One heavily-used direct route which offers just a 10 nautical mile improvement per flight will have a much greater effect than a direct route offering much shorter distances but only used by five aircraft a day.”
Although all consortium members say it is too early to quantify fuel burn benefits, average route extensions over some areas in Europe are running at 49 km per flight, or 5 to 6% of the flight distance. Today, in the FRAMaK area, upper air routes include route extensions of around 3% (or 15 NM) on average. As part of the performance targets set within Single European Sky regulations ANSPs will have to reduce flight extension by an average of 0.75% by 2014.
The FRAMaK programme has been planned to ensure controller productivity remains unaffected by the new procedures, with changes occurring predominantly at the flight planning level. One anticipated effect is that more accurate flight planning will also minimise the impact on network capacity and complexity.
A priority is to make the aircraft operator community aware of the possibilities. “To promote the use of direct routes MUAC experts are regularly drawing up bespoke aircraft operators’ reports with a detailed breakdown of their flights usage of free route airspace and where quantifiable gains can be achieved,” said Theo Hendricks. “MUAC will extend this service originating from FRAM also to FRAMaK.”
There are other benefits, too. “The consortium between airspace users and ANSPs is working very close together to gather the necessary know-how,” said Lufthansa’s Raymund Obst. “We are also learning the constraints under which everyone works and that is a very valuable part of the project.”
The long term target of SESAR is to have free route airspace throughout Europe and the FRAMaK project – and especially the cross border aspect – is a vital part of this strategy and a key project enabling the extension of free routes in the entire FABEC (Functional Airspace Block Europe Central) area. “It’s not a technology driven project where new systems enable new operations,” said Theo Hendriks. “The key success factor is more the will to cooperate between ANSPs because you depend on partners to create and successfully operate large-scale Free Route Airspace beyond your own boundaries.”
The consortium members are, in many ways, pioneering not just new operational procedures and technologies but a new way of working together and they are doing so in some of the busiest and most complex airspace areas in the world. With each small step MUAC and Karlsruhe, along with their aircraft operating partners, are progressing significantly towards the FABEC airspace strategy’s ambition of implementing and operating a large-scale Free Route Airspace in the high-density core of Europe.