Greener skies the goal of voluntary emissions plan

NBAA Convention News » 2007
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September 19, 2007, 1:37 PM

Blue skies over the Atlantic may look a little greener over the next few years as the U.S. and European Union member states work together to reduce aviation’s environmental impact. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and European Commission for Transportation president Jacques Barrot announced in June the launch of the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE), a voluntary program designed to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of the agreement, government and industry will use best practices and develop new procedures and technologies to “whittle away at a carbon footprint that is already low,” Blakey said. A United Nations panel on climate change estimates that about 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to the aviation industry. “Every place we can make a difference, we will,” Blakey said.

The U.S. will begin by implementing trajectory-based ground operations at 35 major airports, using airport surface detection equipment (ASDE-X). ASDE-X uses radar, ADS-B sensors, terminal automation systems and aircraft transponders to pinpoint an aircraft’s exact location within five miles of an airport. It also provides detailed coverage of aircraft movement on taxiways and runways.

ASDE-X technology provides the potential for greater capacity enhancements and allows air navigation service providers to coordinate more efficient aircraft surface movements, said Kevin Chamness, oceanic service improvements lead for safety and operations at the FAA. “It’s through those efficiencies that we reduce the amount of harmful carbon emissions that come with unnecessary fuel burn or poor fuel management,” he told NBAA Convention News.

Blakey explained that trajectory-based operations limit “the stopping and starting and fuel burn we so often see in backups on the runway” and result in smooth trajectories, from the moment an aircraft leaves the gate until it lands. To date, ASDE-X has been implemented at nine airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Orlando International Airport in Florida and Louisville International Airport-Standiford Field in Kentucky.

The U.S. and EU will also focus on oceanic trajectory optimization, using Next Generation Air Transport System (NextGen) and Europe’s Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Program (Sesar) procedures and programs such as Ocean 21/ATOP (Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures). The goal, according to Chamness, centers on developing new technologies that will give air traffic controllers the ability to constantly assess the flow of air traffic and offer alternative, more fuel efficient routes to aircraft crossing the Atlantic. The program is still under development, he said, but trial flights using the new technology will begin late next year or early 2009.

“As the aircraft takes off and goes across the Atlantic Ocean, we know that there is an optimum route of flight [and] optimal fuel burn for that particular aircraft’s ability,” Blakey said. “When you slice time and fuel, the natural by-product is a reduction in greenhouse gases. When you do it in collaboration across the ocean, you magnify the results.”

Aircraft will also be urged to use “smooth” or “reduced-engine landings” during descent. Blakey explained that during a low power, continuous descent approach, “the engines are almost at idle so that [the aircraft is] not burning a lot of fuel.” The practice is being used at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport and Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport and has “shown substantial savings in fuel, CO2 and NOx emissions,” according to the EC. It will be possible, according to Blakey, to save as much as a ton of CO2 per flight. “That’s like planting a tree with each flight,” she said.

“When it comes to operational measures, I would say this initiative can make savings of approximately 5 to 10 percent on a transatlantic flight, which is very significant given the number of flights that cross the Atlantic every day,” SAS Scandinavian Airlines senior vice president Hans Ollongren said. “We have an interest to reduce fuel burn, and reducing fuel burn will reduce our costs, but it will also benefit the environment,” he added.

Airbus, Boeing, SAS, Air France, Delta and FedEx are among the manufacturers and airlines that have pledged support for the program. According to Airbus COO Fabrice Bregier, the company “is moving forward to become greener throughout.” Airbus president and CEO Louis Gallois recently announced that the company plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 percent, NOx emissions by 80 percent and energy consumption by 30 percent by 2020. Airbus also intends to increase its research and technology budget by 25 percent starting next year. “A green industry–one that does not pollute–must be the vision for the future of aviation,” Bregier said. “Airbus supports AIRE,” he declared.

International navigation services, such as the Irish Aviation Authority, LVF of Sweden and NAV of Portugal, have also joined the partnership. “As the environment is a global issue, we believe a collaborative effort between air navigation service providers [ANSPs] will be most effective, certainly far more effective than ANSPs working individually,” said IAA spokeswoman Lilian Cassin. “We are not in the business of developing new technologies; however, all new procedures will be examined with regard to minimizing, where practicable, their impact on the environment.”

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