Air traffic controllers are now able to analyse the environmental efficiency of flights in near real-time, thanks to a new tool developed by NATS.
The Flight Optimisation System, or ‘FLOSYS’, takes real radar data, updated every three minutes, and combines it with NATS’ 3Di airspace efficiency metric to produce a graphical representation of every flight in UK airspace.
Controllers can then analyse the efficiency of an individual aircraft through every phase of flight and airspace sector, as well as compare it against other flights along the same route up to 12 months ago, including the average and best performing.
By having access to this granularity of data for the first time, controllers and airspace managers will be able to better identify the opportunities for operational improvements that will save airlines fuel and cut carbon emissions.
Since 2012 NATS has measured the efficiency of an aircraft’s route and trajectory using its three dimensional inefficiency (3Di) metric where each flight is compared to a scale where zero represents total environmental efficiency. Most flights typically score somewhere between 15 and 35.
However it is only with the advent of ‘FLOSYS’ that controllers can now immediately see 3Di scores for individual flights and identify specific areas for improvement, or best practice techniques to share.
Ash Bennett, NATS Swanwick airspace efficiency manager, said: “What we want to do is equip our controllers with enough data to be able to understand the story behind every flight and to then make informed decisions on areas of possible improvement. That might be in the form of more direct or efficient routes, or better climb and descent profiles, all of which help save airlines fuel.”
The system has been developed by the NATS innovation centre, SPACE, together with Altran UK and Lockheed Martin, and with input from the operational ATC community at both NATS’ Swanwick and Prestwick centres. The initial roll out is at Swanwick, before moving to Prestwick Centre next year.
The project forms part of NATS’ wider environmental programme, with its interim target to cut air traffic related CO2 by an average of 4% per flight by the end of this year, along the way to achieving a 10% saving by 2020.
Ian Jopson, NATS Head of Environment and Community Affairs, said: “All the indicators point to us achieving our 4% target for the end of this year. That’s a fantastic achievement itself, but it is just a milestone on our way towards meeting our 10% goal.
“That’s why innovations like ‘FLOSYS’ are so important because it puts real data and real influence in the hands of our controllers who are often the best people at identifying fuel saving opportunities.”
NATS hopes to continue improving fuel efficiency improvements, but its 3Di scheme does not take noise into account
According to UK air traffic services provider NATS, the environmental and operational efficiency of UK airspace improved during the first half of this year. However, it faces a challenge to meet a new tighter year-end target set by the CAA. In 2012, NATS was set an incentivised efficiency performance target (called 3Di -meaning 3 dimensional inefficiency) by the CAA. Its aim is to get the most direct and most fuel efficient routes, saving aircraft having to stack, and cutting fuel use and CO2 emissions. Each flight is given a score of its efficiency, with zero being best. Most flights typically score between 15 and 35. This year the CAA set NATS an overall target of 23. Their score was 23.7 in 2013 and a score of 23.9 in 2012. NATS says it it achieves its target scores over 3 years, planes will have saved around 600,000 tonnes of CO2 will have been saved. As well as CDA (continuous descent approach) landings, smoother take-offs, and flying at the optimum level. NATS is straightening flight paths. Their 3Di scores to not take account of the noise nuisance, and there are fears that some new flight path changes, helping NATS meet their target, are creating more noise from over-flying new areas.
Between 4,000 and 7,000ft, the new routes trade off noise against reducing fuel burn/emissions. Above 7,000ft, the priority has been to reduce fuel burn/emissions
rather than reduce overflying of population centres.
The runway environment – from c.4000ft down to the ground – includes the low-level airspace reserved for take-off and landing, where the impact of aviation to those on the ground takes precedence and airports are responsible for managing the effects of
any changes on their local communities.
The LAMP programme considers a fundamental re-design of the terminal airspace at a
network level, above c.4000ft (or the ceiling of noise preferential routes).
(A1.3.1) Replicating or Re-designing procedures for PBN. At low altitudes – from c.4000ft
down to the ground – the impact of aviation to those on the ground takes precedence and airports will be responsible for managing the effects of FAS deployment on their local communities. As a minimum airports in the LAMP and NTCA environments are required to replicate their existing arrival and departure routes at low altitudes to a PBN standard,
increasing precision and integrating into the terminal network design that has been developed to the same advanced navigational standards. Some airports will
choose to go beyond simply replications and re-design their SIDs and arrival procedures to realise the potential capacity and environmental benefits of PBN.
Any changes to routes under 4,000ft are the responsibility of the relevant airport.