Air traffic management initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region are delivering significant environmental improvements. Emma Kelly looks at the work of three air navigation service providers in the region.
The role that air traffic management (ATM) plays in environmental outcomes has long been recognised. ATM best practices including performance-based navigation (PBN), user preferred routes (UPR), dynamic airborne reroute procedures (DARP), satellite navigation, reduced separation and time-based arrivals management (TBAM) are all resulting in more efficient flight routes and reduced fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.
Satellite communication specialist Inmarsat, for example, points out the connected aircraft using satellite communications has the potential to save airlines US$15 billion annual in operational efficiencies and 21.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2035.
Optimising flight routes through the use of real time weather information yields an estimated 1 percent fuel reduction per flight, equating to 8.3 million tonnes of CO2 and $1.3 billion in fuel costs annually, according to Inmarsat. IP-enabled, secure real-time data exchange between aircraft and air traffic control through enhanced satellite connectivity is supporting improved surveillance and allowing separation standards between aircraft to be reduced. Inmarsat estimates that the move from radar-based systems to satellite-based navigation, automating aircraft position reporting and providing digital datalink communication between pilots and ATC could save $3 billion annually, not to mention the emissions savings.
Projects, trials and implementation of ATM best practice around the world are yielding significant reductions in fuel use and emissions. UK air navigation service provider NATS, for example, revealed that in 2017 alone operators saved more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions thanks to improvements in its airspace management, including more direct routes, improved vertical profiles, continuous rather than stepped climb and descent and new ATM technologies. Across the Atlantic Ocean, 147,160 tonnes of CO2 savings were made through the use of more efficient routes. Since 2008, NATS says there has been a 6.4 percent cut in CO2 per flight – or 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year.
In Europe, improvements to flight profiles in Functional Airspace Block Europe Central (FABEC) airspace, which comprises Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland, have resulted in almost 13,000 tonnes of CO2 emission and 4,200 tonnes of fuel savings. FABEC handles about six million flights per year or 55 percent of European air traffic.
The Asia-Pacific region has also been at the forefront of improved environmental performance through ATM best practice, with regional programmes like the Asia and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions (ASPIRE) and the Indian Ocean Strategic Partnership to Reduce Emissions (INSPIRE) all highlighting what can be achieved.
Three of the region’s leading ANSPs, Airservices Australia, Airways New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), were early members of ASPIRE and INSPIRE and are implementing improved ATM procedures and technology within their own airspace which is yielding results.
Airservices Australia is relying on new technology and ATM procedures to allow it to safely and efficiently handle the growing traffic volumes in the region. By 2030, Airservices expects Australia’s capital city airports to handle 235 million passengers each year. With most of this growth coming from Asia, particularly China.
Existing ATM procedures such as continuous descent approaches (CDA), whereby an aircraft flies from cruise altitude to the runway on a smooth and uninterrupted descent rather than a stepped approach; flextracks on routes between Australia and airports in Asia and the Middle East, where a flight diverges from fixed or direct routes to benefit from high-altitude jet stream winds and avoid strong headwinds; UPRs which are generated by an aircraft operator to benefit from changes in meteorological conditions, for example; Smart Tracking or required navigation performance (RNP) whereby the latest aircraft use satellite navigation to fly with greater accuracy; and the ASPIRE and INSPIRE initiatives, where ATM best practice is deployed on certain routes on a daily basis, have all resulted in reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. CDA alone can save as much as 400kg of fuel per arrival – or more than a tonne of CO2 reductions per flight – depending on aircraft size, weather and other air traffic conditions, according to Airservices.
Airservices new harmonised civil and military ATM system OneSky, along with airport collaborative decision making (A-CDM) and long-range air traffic flow management (LR-ATFM) are the means through which Airservices believes it will be able to safely and efficiently handle the growth. After lengthy delays, OneSky is making progress, with Airservices announcing in early December that ATM facilities in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth have switched over to the new Civil Military ATM (CMATS) voice communication system, with Brisbane to follow in early 2019. Airservices and lead contractor Thales have also completed the system definition review for the project, which now finally moves into the detailed design phase.
A-CDM involves the sharing of information and data between airport operators, aircraft operators, ground handlers and air traffic control and is expected to realise major savings, in time, cost, fuel and environmental effects, over the next decade through long-range planning and tactical decisions on ground delays. Improved data sharing will provide a common operational picture that allows the most efficient use of airport infrastructure and resources. “An air traffic controller can view the same real-time data that an airport or airline operations manager can see. Ultimately this gives us greater predictability and working together we can plan the most efficient operations, which are more predictable and burn less fuel,” explains Jason Harfield, Airservices chief executive officer.
A-CDM will be gradually rolled out across the country from December 2019 through to March 2020, starting with Brisbane and Sydney airports.
The ANSP is also ready to implement LR-ATFM following completion of the concept of operations. LR-ATFM shifts some or all of the required airborne delay for long-range flights from the arrival phase to the enroute phase, resulting in less fuel burn and improved predictability of arrival flows. Airservices is planning to launch LR-ATFM in mid-2019 at Melbourne Airport, followed by roll out at Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
Airways New Zealand says that technologies and ATM initiatives that it has already implemented are allowing airlines to avoid 37,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. “Through a number of sophisticated aviation systems allowing airlines to fly more direct routes with a minimum of delay, Airways is playing a leading role in reducing aviation carbon emissions across the Pacific region,” it says.
From 2020, efficiencies will be improved even further, it adds, with the introduction of the new Leidos Skyline X ATM platform that will replace Airways’ two existing ATM systems which date back to 2000 and 2003. The new ATM system is scheduled to become operational in domestic airspace in 2020 and Oceanic airspace in 2021, with benefits including improved trajectory modelling and time-based flow management (TBFM).
Airlines operating in New Zealand airspace – and the environment – have already benefited from numerous ATM measures, including PBN, UPR and flow management.
PBN procedures, for example, are in operation for the majority of the country’s controlled airspace, with more than 50 PBN projects across 17 controlled aerodromes to be completed in 2019. PBN is reducing emissions through the use of shorter flight paths, continuous climb and descent operations and low power approaches for aircraft operating into and out of the country’s airports.
PBN is a key part of New Zealand’s New Southern Sky which is a 10 year programme of work aimed at modernising the country’s aviation system. The new Skyline X platform will include PBN and flow management-enabling tools, with a Unified Flight Modeller set to more precisely predict aircraft trajectory. As surveillance technologies evolve and aircraft capabilities increase, advanced PBN procedures will be required, says Airways NZ, noting that the country will move from radar to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast as the main surveillance technology from 2021.
PBN or Smart Approaches into Auckland Airport using satellite-based navigation have resulted in reduced fuel burn, reduced emissions and quieter operations to benefit the airport’s neighbours. Four Smart Approach flight paths already operate at Auckland and following successful trials, new Smart Approaches are set for introduction in March 2019. During a trial involving Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Emirates, one Smart Approach alone yielded savings for 441 aircraft of 3,396nm, 78,710kg of fuel and 248,725kg of CO2.
Operators to Queenstown Airport have benefited significantly from required navigation performance authorisation required (RNP-AR) procedures. Approaches to Queenstown are challenging due to the region’s terrain and extreme weather. At the same time, the airport is one of the fastest growing airports in Australasia, with movements expected to double to 114 a day by 2045 due to a booming tourism market. RNP-AR procedures were first introduced in 2012 to improve the safety and efficiency of Queenstown operations, and ongoing enhancements have followed. The results have been significant, with airborne delays – and thereby fuel burn and emissions – reduced from a maximum of 2,600 minutes a month to 330 minutes a month on average, says Airways NZ. The result to the environment is a saving of 7,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Collaborative flow management (CFM), which was first introduced by Airways NZ a decade ago, has resulted in benefits across the country’s domestic airspace. “CFM has changed the entire domestic passenger operating environment in New Zealand. This technology matches airlines’ scheduling needs with capacity at the destination and coordinates arrival slots to lessen airborne delays by avoiding airport congestion,” says Airways NZ. Airways NZ estimates that CFM reduces carbon emissions by around 37,000 tonnes every year, with the Skyline X platform set to further the capability. “Skyline X will push Airways’ flow management capability to the next step by introducing time-based flow management [TBFM] tools. This will use time-based metering to improve the flow of traffic in busy areas of airspace,” it explains.
Meanwhile, in Oceanic airspace – of which the New Zealand flight information region includes 26 million square kilometres across the Pacific and Tasman oceans – some 65 percent of traffic is deploying UPRs, allowing operators to take advantage of favourable winds, reducing flying time and fuel burn. Suitably equipped aircraft can also use DARP, allowing an aircraft to modify its flight path through the journey taking into account changing atmospheric conditions.
CAAS is also at the forefront of environmental ATM initiatives in the region, deploying efficient ATM procedures and shorter flight routes. Initiatives on routes across the South China Sea and Bay of Bengal, for example, have resulted in savings of at least 50,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, while its involvement in the ASPIRE programme on Singapore-Los Angeles services via Tokyo saved a significant amount of fuel and time and consequently carbon emissions, with the initial demonstration flight yielding fuel savings of 6 percent. The Los Angeles-Singapore route is just one of a number of daily ASPIRE routes which use ATM best practice. Other destinations have been added to the programme over the years, including Auckland, Christchurch, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Wellington.
CAAS says aircraft flying optimum profiles can potentially achieve fuel savings at an estimated 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. Trials of continuous descent operations, whereby a smoother descent profile using minimum power, resulted in 926 tonnes of CO2 emissions saved over just a 14-week period or an average of 1.2 tonnes per flight.
A series of Green Package flights involving Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350-900 flights on the San Francisco-Singapore route also highlighted the environmental benefits possible with optimised flight operations. Over a three-month period, ATM best practice was deployed on the route, as well as the aircraft using a sustainable biofuel. ATM procedures deployed included UPR, DARP, 30/30nm reduced oceanic separation and time-based arrivals management.
CAAS is working with Airways New Zealand and the UK’s NATS to improve the on-time performance of long-haul air traffic using LR-ATFM on flights between Singapore, London Heathrow, Auckland and Christchurch. The partners have been working together to manage the time selected long-haul flights spend in the cruise phase in order to minimise the time spent in airborne holding upon arrival at their destination airport. The International Air Transport Association has estimated that airborne holding costs airports and airlines in the booming Asia-Pacific region almost $300 million every year in delays and unnecessary fuel burn.
The procedure involves air traffic controllers working with airlines to make marginal speed adjustments to flights during their enroute phase in order to better manage arrivals times. The partners believe by actively managing an aircraft speed much earlier in the flight than is done traditionally can save an airline $3.7 million a year in fuel costs and around four minutes of flying time per flight. ENDS