Asia-Pacific ATM goes green
A new round of innovative ATM initiatives in the region has been launched, designed to reduce emissions and increase operational efficiency. Emma Kelly examines the latest projects.
First there was ASPIRE – the Asia and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions – and now there is INSPIRE – the Indian Ocean Strategic Partnership to Reduce Emissions. Both are collaborative environmental air traffic management (ATM) initiatives with the same goals at their core: to implement “green” ATM processes and technology, and reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.
ASPIRE was formed by Airservices Australia, Airways New Zealand and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in February 2008. The founding members have since been joined by the air navigation service providers of Japan, Singapore and Thailand.
A series of demonstration flights across the Pacific, conducted with the removal of normal operational restraints, showed what is possible. The first five of these flights resulted in 32,386kg of fuel saved and a 101,986kg reduction in carbon dioxide, compared with normal operations. Now the partners are busy introducing ATM environmental best practices into daily operations.
ASPIRE’s sister initiative, INSPIRE, was launched by Airservices Australia last year, with a round of demonstration flights under the project completed in July. INSPIRE focuses on the Indian Ocean region – more specifically on routes linking the Arabian Gulf to Australia; Southern Africa to Australia and South East Asia; and the South-West Indian Ocean to the Arabian Gulf region.
In addition to Airservices, the project also involves the Airports Authority of India, Abu Dhabi Airports, the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Air Navigation Services, Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka), Maldives Airport and the Sultanate of Oman Civil Aviation Authority. The airlines involved are Emirates, Etihad, South African Airways (SAA) and Virgin Australia.
Like ASPIRE, INSPIRE involves a series of demonstration flights operated under “perfect” ATM conditions, which will be followed by a work programme designed to lead to the daily use of best practices.
“The aim of these flights is to demonstrate the flight efficiency that can be achieved within the current Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean ATM environment by removing controllable ATM system constraints as far as is practicable. The reduction in emissions that will be demonstrated by these flights will serve as a credible target level for ANSPs [air navigation service providers] to work towards,” says Airservices.
The first INSPIRE demonstration flight was conducted by SAA on 10 March, between Perth and Johannesburg, operated by an Airbus A340. The flight saved 400kg of fuel – the equivalent of ten tanks of fuel for an average-sized car – and approximately 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, according to Jason Harfield, Airservices’ general manager of air traffic control.
Airservices notes that this fuel saving was achieved on a route that is already highly optimised in the en-route phase, with many ATM best practices already in daily use. “The savings on this flight are notable because they highlight that improvements to practices in the departure and arrival phases of flight can make a notable reduction in emissions,” says the ANSP.
The SAA demonstration was followed in July by a further four flights – Emirates operating a Boeing 777 between Perth and Dubai; an Airbus A340 service operated by Etihad between Abu Dhabi and Sydney; an Emirates 777 service from Dubai to Brisbane; and a Virgin Australia flight between Abu Dhabi and Sydney.
All of the flights received unrestricted taxi and take-off clearance and an uninterrupted climb to their initial cruise levels, following company-preferred routes within Australian upper airspace. On arrival, the flights were provided with unrestricted descents directly to final approach and the shortest taxi routes to the gate.
Emirates’ two INSPIRE flights resulted in a combined saving of over 6,250 litres of fuel and more than 16,000kg of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the airline.
The airline’s involvement in INSPIRE is the latest example of its efforts to improve its environmental performance. Since 2003, for example, Emirates has worked with ANSPs on its flights to Australia to cut emissions. Over five years, Emirates says savings have amounted to 9.6 million litres of fuel and 24,268 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
In 2011, based on an estimated 63 flights per week, approximate savings on the routes for the year will be in the order of 2.47 million litres of fuel and 6,850 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the carrier says.
According to Airservices, the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean is a “distinctly different air traffic environment” to the Asia-Pacific region and as such the INSPIRE programme faces different challenges from ASPIRE. A particular focus of the flights involved reducing ATM constraints in the north-west of the Indian Ocean.
The demonstration flights also served to successfully extend the existing Australian Organised Track System (AUSOTS) programme that has seen the implementation of flex tracks. The flights involved the use of two flex tracks at the same time between the United Arab Emirates and Sydney, with each track provided by the participating airline. Evolutionary step
“This is a significant evolutionary step in moving toward the target-user preferred route environment,” says Airservices. There are no plans for further demonstration flights, the ANSP says, with the partners now confirming the emissions savings ahead of developing a programme of work that will lead to these savings becoming daily practices.
INSPIRE’s sister programme ASPIRE has already reached that stage, with the launch of the daily programme earlier this year, whereby ATM environmental best practices are monitored on a daily basis.
Prior to the launch of the daily city pairs, the ASPIRE programme saw six demonstration flights, with the latest conducted by Thai Airways with a 777-200ER in May between Bangkok and Auckland, marking the entry of Aerothai into the ASPIRE partnership.
On average, the demonstration flights conducted by Air New Zealand, Qantas, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai saved 234kg of fuel per flight.
These demonstrations were followed by extensive data gathering and performance modelling, paving the way for environmental best practices to be used on a daily basis on selected routes.
The first ASPIRE daily city-pair was launched in February between Auckland and San Francisco, followed by Los Angeles-Singapore. Additional daily pairs have been identified and the next, between Sydney and San Francisco is due to come on line in September, coinciding with an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation environmental summit in the US city. At the same time, Los Angeles-Melbourne will also become an ASPIRE daily city pair, says Airservices. The eventual plan is to have a network of “green routes” throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Optimised operations
ASPIRE daily city-pair flights operate under optimal flight plan conditions utilising user-preferred routes, dynamic airborne rerouting procedures, 30/30nm separation in the oceanic environment, time-based arrivals management, arrivals optimisation, departure optimisation and surface movement optimisation.
“Of critical importance now is to get the attention of airline passengers,” says Doug Scott, chairman of the ASPIRE partnership. “They see governments imposing environmental taxes on long-haul flights, yet what they’d prefer to be seeing is an industry taking active steps to reduce its environmental impact. That’s ASPIRE – a network of partners across the world who are collectively committed to implementing world’s best practice in ATM and environmental stewardship – every single day.”
As part of the ongoing process of introducing ATM best practices on a daily basis, user-preferred routes (UPRs) were recently launched between Melbourne and Auckland by Airservices and Airways New Zealand. UPRs, whereby operators use the most efficient route rather than following fixed, published routes, are already in use by some carriers across the Pacific Ocean and in the Indian Ocean between Australia and the Middle East and South Africa.
Since June, airlines flying between the two cities in either direction have been able to use UPRs, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions. Airservices plans to introduce UPRs on all services across the Tasman Sea and eventually across continental Australian airspace.
The routes are calculated by an operator’s flight dispatchers with the aim of achieving a minimum-fuel, minimum-time or minimum-cost flight.
“Airlines will be able to make these decisions based on factors such as forecast weather, aircraft type and performance as well as their own scheduling requirements,” says Mark Rodwell, Airservices’ acting general manager of air traffic control. “This will enable them to fly optimised routes to achieve better flight efficiency through the use of prevailing wind patterns, delivering shorter flight times, reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Elsewhere in the region, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) launched a pilot project in July, designed to improve ATM efficiency on one of the region’s major air routes – between Bangkok and Singapore – through the use of collaborative decision making (CDM).
CDM improves the exchange of information between all stakeholders involved in flight operations, including airlines, airports, ANSPs and government agencies. CANSO says the project will provide the information needed to enhance gate-to-gate operations, eventually expanding to the optimisation of “kerb-to-kerb” operations. The pilot project will demonstrate the efficiency gains from the use of CDM at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport and the integration with en-route CDM.
CANSO says Bangkok-Singapore was selected as there are relatively few air traffic constraints that could hinder the identification and further development of best practices. The project team is defining a concept for the pilot project and exploring practical ways of implementing CDM. CANSO hopes that data collected in the pilot project will allow the development of CDM implementation best practices for other city pairs in the region.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Airbus’s Quovadis unit is developing a performance-based navigation (PBN) network at 11 airports in co-operation with the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
PBN, including required navigation performance (RNP), is an ATM concept endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), aimed at improving efficiency while increasing airspace capacity and safety. RNP uses satellite navigation and the latest aircraft technologies to allow an aircraft to fly accurately defined and contained trajectories, without relying on ground-based navigation aids. The procedures improve safety, at the same time as reducing fuel costs and carbon emissions through the use of shorter tracks and reduced weather minima.
Airbus says the entire region will benefit from the increased ATM capacity and reduced emissions, making Philippine airspace one of the most advanced, PBN-optimised ATM environments in the world. The project will include procedure design and obstacles data survey training as well as training for air traffic controllers and flight-safety inspectors.
“This unique alliance of authorities, air navigation services providers and operators, which include Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Airphil Express and Zest Airways, is a true breakthrough in the industry,” says Paul-Franck Bijou, chief executive officer of Quovadis. “This project brings together all stakeholders to create fuel efficient, flexible and safe trajectories.”