Ian Jopson, of NATS, explains their new technology to reduce aircraft emissions at landing and take off

NATS, the body that deals with UK air traffic control, has been attempting to reduce aircraft fuel consumption and carbon emissions by getting planes to take more direct routes, and land and take off at a continuous rate. They have devised a programme they call Flight Profile Monitor, which helps them achieve this. It uses radar data to monitor the 3 dimensional flight profiles of individual aircraft and to then record which of those were achieving smooth, continuous climbs and descents. Ian Jopson from NATS claims that from a 12 month trial last year between NATS, BMi, BMi Regional, Loganair, easyJet, Ryanair and Edinburgh Airport they achieved a saving of “at least 800 tonnes of CO2 and 250 tonnes of fuel” (tiny in comparison with the UK total). This was done by analysing each flight to see where savings could be made. They got a 20% increase in continuous descent landings, to around 55%. They also got around 95% with a continuous climb rate.  NATS hopes to get more savings in future.



Flight data helps plot a route to savings

4 April 2013
by Ian Jopson, (Head of Environment and Community Affairs, NATS)

In a bid to save fuel and cut carbon emissions, NATS has developed a flight profile monitor tool. Ian Jopson, Head of Environment and Community Affairs at NATS, extols the virtues of the new technology

(extracts below from full article)

NATS … No-where is that more the case than in our environmental programme where we’ve committed ourselves to looking at every aspect of what we do in order to identify opportunities for environmental improvements.

Our goal is to improve the environmental performance of aircraft under our control by up to 10% on average by 2020. This is a mighty challenge, but the detailed analysis of operational data is helping us measure our performance and identify new ways to meet that challenge head on.

One of the areas we have been looking at is the opportunity to improve the climb and descent profiles of aircraft, aiming where possible to eliminate periods of level flight prior to an aircraft reaching cruising altitude, and thereby saving fuel and cutting carbon emissions.

A flight that makes a continuous descent or climb simply burns less fuel and emits less carbon – an outcome that benefits everyone. But in order to establish a baseline performance and to enable regular monitoring, we had to develop a bespoke tool which would provide us with the data we needed on aircraft performance during each phase of flight – from airport push-back and taxi to cruise, and anything in between.

Nothing like this existed on the market, so after years of development and testing, a system that we’ve called Flight Profile Monitor was delivered and made available for operational use.

The Flight Profile Monitor is designed to use radar data to monitor the three dimensional flight profiles of individual aircraft and to then record which of those were achieving smooth, continuous climbs and descents.

We also engineered it to be able to measure any individual part of the flight in order to provide us with the most granular data possible. For example, if we need Flight Profile Monitor to look in detail at just one narrow phase of flight – say continuous descents from 6,000ft to 1,800ft, it can.

Alternatively it can provide a complete overview of an entire flight profile from ground to cruise and back to ground again. In doing so it has helped us to understand the characteristics of the aircraft under our control like never before.

In August 2011 we launched Flight Profile Monitor at our 15 major UK airport units, including Heathrow and Gatwick, in order to arm the teams there with the data they needed on their own continuous climb and descent performance.

This meant that our air traffic control teams, which previously had little or no data about the environmental performance of the aircraft under their control, could then track their performance over time and highlight any opportunities to improve.

To begin with, this data was purely for internal use. The information produced went towards monthly reports to airport unit General Managers, and included a wealth of operational data on continuous climb and descent rates, details of level off locations, level off lengths and performance, broken down by airline, aircraft type, runway direction and even by air traffic controller shift pattern. So if a particular watch [ie. team on air traffic control], for example, was achieving a greater number of continuous descent approaches, that data was made available and could help highlight techniques that could be shared amongst the other teams.

All of this allowed our teams to make real strides towards improving their own performance, but we knew that was only part of the answer.

Any environmental initiative needs collaboration to achieve maximum results and we knew that there were considerable opportunities for us to use Flight Profile Monitor to work with the airports and airlines in order to fully realise the benefits.

In December 2011, at the Edinburgh Flight Operations and Procedures Committee meeting, it was agreed between NATS, BMi, BMi Regional, Loganair, easyJet, Ryanair and Edinburgh Airport that they would be the first participants of a fully fledged Flight Profile Monitor trial which would run for the next 12 months.

Over the course of the trial, it soon became clear that while certain aspects of the trial were going very well, there were other areas where obvious improvements could be made. For example, we identified that while departing flights achieved around 95% continuous climb rate, only 55% of arriving flights were achieving continuous descent approaches.

Without Flight Profile Monitor, this kind of data would have remained hidden from us, the airlines and the airport.

So with focus from the trial along with improvements to the quality of the local radar station, between March 2012 and July 2012, we were able to use the Flight Profile Monitor data to pinpoint improvements and deliver a 20% rise in the number of continuous decent approaches being achieved.

The outcome equated to savings of at least 800 tonnes of CO2 and 250 tonnes of fuel; worth £165,000 per year to the airlines. A huge win-win situation for everyone involved, with excellent feedback from the trial participants.


The Flight Profile Monitor demonstrates NATS taking an innovative approach in the original development of a new tool, but it has also shown how environmental data can be applied in practice and in collaboration across the aviation industry to deliver tangible environmental benefits.

All in all, it was great success.


Ian Jopson has almost 20 years’ experience in the sphere of environmental aviation issues in Europe and beyond, working for the Civil Aviation Authority, NATS and an independent consultancy.

As the Head of Environmental and Community Affairs at NATS, Ian is responsible for driving forward a programme targeting improvements to operational CO2 emissions and a low carbon strategy for the NATS estate – his work has enabled NATS to be the first air navigation service provider to set operational CO2 targets.

Ian is currently a member of ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) and has provided advice to ICAO’s Group on International Aviation and Climate Change and the UNFCCC negotiations leading up to the establishment of the post Kyoto climate change targets framework. In Europe, Ian leads the environmental transversal programme in the Single European Sky ATM Research programme, SESAR.






See earlier:


NATS meets its target in 2012 to organise UK airspace to save planes wasting fuel

1.2.2013   (NATS website)  . NATS – which provides air traffic navigation services for the UK – says it has met its target for 2012, in terms of organising airspace to minimise the amount of fuel burnt by aircraft, and hence their CO2 emissions.  Its scheme, called 3Di, aims to keep planes flying optimally in terms of both their height, the amount of level flight, and the distance they have to travel.  The ideal is for planes to land directly, on a straight line, coming down by continuous descent approach.  With the airspace over much of the  UK being some of the most crowded in the world, such an ideal is not always possible. Each flight gets a 3Di score, and then NATS gets a total score for the year.   If NATS meets a 3Di score each year of 24, it meets its requirements. If the score is over 27, it gets penalised.  If below 21, NATS gets bonuses. In 2012 its score was 23.9.https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=651 



NATS has data on its first 6 months of new flight efficiency metric, 3Di

3.8.2013   . NATS has released data from the first 6 months of operation of its new metric to reduce aircraft emissions of planes in UK airspace, through improved efficiency of airspace management and flight path directness.  The metric is called 3Di.  Flights are given a score depending on how fuel efficient their course has been, by continuous climb departures, cruise levels as requested by airspace users and continuous descents, as well as most direct point-to-point routeings – ie. horizontal and vertical line.  NATS claims the 3Di tool will give huge fuel savings, it ” is designed to deliver 600,000 tonnes of CO2 savings over the next 3 years – the equivalent to 10,000 flights from London to New York.” The challenge for NATS is sorting out direct flight paths with a high volume of flights and limited runway capacity (at some times of day) at Heathrow, as well as bad weather.https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=2376 



CAA sets new targets for NATS to cut airline CO2 and improve flight efficiency

8.11.2011 (UKPA)   . The CAA hopes new flight-efficiency targets could cut aviation CO2 emissions over the next 3 years. The new targets are being set for NATS, to reduce aircraft
CO2 emissions, with bonus or penalty payments depending on Nats’ performance.
The proposals are published for consultation. The CAA targets involve the directness
of flights and how smooth the climb and descent is for every flight. NATS and
CAA will monitor and publish monthly performance figures.https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=4684