New air traffic management plans are one means by which nations can reduce carbon dioxide emissions. According to Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the International Air Transport Association, implementation of the Single European Sky program can reduce aviation CO2 by 12 percent. He added, “We have 34 air traffic control centers in Europe versus one [provider] in the U.S. for a similar traffic and land size.” The result, he said, is inefficiencies, delays and flight times that are longer than necessary.
Eurocontrol says it is already working to curb aircraft emissions. Director general Víctor Aguado recently said the organization “and its stakeholders are determined to accelerate air traffic management’s contribution to the sustainable development of air transport.
“Already in Europe, environmental measures in air traffic management are reducing CO2 emissions by more than two million metric tons, equivalent to one percent per annum.” It has been estimated that ATM could ultimately help aviation cut CO2 emissions by another 10 percent, he said.
Eurocontrol studies have demonstrated that airspace improvements can deliver tangible environmental benefits. One of the prime examples of this was the implementation of reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) and the introduction of six new flight levels in January 2002. The result was a capacity increase of 15 percent in the airspace of 41 states that are members of the European Civil Aviation Conference because aircraft can fly more optimum flight profiles and more direct routings.
Andrew Watt, Eurocontrol environment domain manager, told AIN that RVSM reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 1 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing four days’ worth of emissions from the intra-ECAC traffic system every year, or 5,600 transatlantic flights.
The application of the flexible use of airspace (FUA) measures currently saves another 400,000 tons of CO2 annually, by making more efficient use of airspace reserved for the military.
Eurocontrol’s Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) also helps reduce emissions every day. The unit offers more direct routings whenever possible and keeps aircraft on the ground with their engines shut down until there is a slot available, rather than have them depart and have to hold while airborne near their destination. In 2005 the CFMU saved 1.1 million tons of CO2.
Eurocontrol is also working on a program that aims to introduce collaborative pan-European design, planning and management of the ATM network. It puts the emphasis on the environment so that when new opportunities are identified, efficiency and environmental gains are achieved simultaneously.
The Sesar ATM Master Plan development–which is being funded jointly with the European Commission–will also make environmental issues a priority, with the goal of reducing environmental impact by 10 percent.
Finally, Eurocontrol’s airport environmental improvement program aims to tackle issues–such as noise and local air quality– that constrain airport growth.
Among key activities of this program is the continuous descent approach. Flight trials conducted by Eurocontrol, in collaboration with aircraft operators, air navigation service providers and airports, have demonstrated a 10- to 30-percent reduction in fuel burn and CO2 emissions (up to 440 pounds per flight) and a 5- to 30-percent reduction in noise in the approach area (within a distance of 6 to 15 miles and perhaps closer). Harmonized guidance material on this will be issued around the middle of this year and is destined to be applied at about 50 European airports.
Future research and development projects in the field of air traffic management will likely focus on strategies to reduce the non-CO2 climatic impacts of aviation (NOx and SOx), and on strategies to avoid condensation trails (or contrails) and cirrus cloud formation in particular.