Initial 4-D Flight Pushes Europe’s ATM Closer to Sesar Efficiency Goals

 - February 27, 2012, 5:37 PM
An Airbus A320 recently completed Europe’s first initial 4-D flight as part of Sesar ATM trials. (Photo: Airbus)

Europe’s Sesar program has validated the air traffic management efficiencies to be gained from knowing that aircraft will pass specified waypoints on time in the world’s first initial four-dimensional (I-4D) flight by an Airbus A320 test aircraft, flying from Toulouse to Copenhagen and Stockholm. According to Dr. Sander Roosendaal, Honeywell’s air traffic management program manager for Europe, the February 10 flight test showed that flight trajectories can be optimized when the aircraft is guaranteed to reach a flight-plan waypoint within 10 seconds of a specified time.

“This means that air traffic controllers can organize other aircraft arrivals so that there is a regular flow into terminal areas,” he told AIN. “It reduces ATM workload, and for airliners it means they don’t risk getting into a holding pattern because controllers aren’t ready for them. This means fewer delays and lower fuel burn.”

Honeywell’s contribution—as a partner in the Sesar Single European Sky program—has been to upgrade its flight management systems (FMS) so that they can support 4D-trajectory operations. “This means that the time of arrival has been negotiated at the flight-planning stage and so the aircraft optimizes its speed to meet the waypoints at the required times,” Roosendaal explained. With datalinks crucial to the functionality of the 4D flight model, the A320 exchanged flight data with ATM centers in Maastricht, Copenhagen and Stockholm during the February 10 test flight. En route, it completed three “time of arrival” procedures and was on time in all cases. “We have validated that the concept is working and the deployment plans are in preparation,” said Roosendaal.

Airbus projects operational implementation of 4D flight in 2018. Beyond its work on FMS software and datalinks, Honeywell is also concentrating on technology for safe intervals for spacing aircraft on runways and taxiways, as well as the role its enhanced vision and synthetic vision can play in ensuring safe all-weather operations and system-wide information management (including sharing of weather data among air- and ground-based players in the Sesar network). Once proven and industrialized, 4D trajectories, based on three spatial dimensions (latitude, longitude, altitude) and time, will allow airlines to plan and fly optimized flight profiles without any need for air traffic controllers to provide vectoring instruction. In addition to Airbus and ATM providers such as Eurocontrol, other I-4D partners include Thales ATM and Indra for ground systems and Thales Avionics for airborne systems.