Significant savings on European flight routes

02.12.2014.- With a total of 466 direct routes published in the upper airspace controlled by the Karlsruhe Upper Area Control Centre of DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung and EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre, the network of cross-border routes available as a flight plan option has expanded considerably, creating a large-scale free route airspace over Belgium, most of Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This results in significant savings for airlines and of CO2 emissions.

Figures published by the Free Route Airspace Maastricht and Karlsruhe (FRAMaK) project suggest potential yearly savings by airlines in the region of 1.5 million nautical miles, roughly equating to 9,000 tonnes of fuel. This will in turn lead to a reduction of CO2 emissions by approximately 30,000 tonnes. The project partners are the German air navigation service provider DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation EUROCONTROL and Lufthansa.

FRAMaK is a pioneering project; the EU Regulation will require European air navigation service providers to offer direct and individual routes in the future. The project was sponsored by the SESAR Joint Undertaking. The results will be integrated into the Functional Airspace Block Europe Central (FABEC) Free Route Airspace Programme.

Modern trajectory-based air traffic management systems were required to be able to offer the new route options.

The FRAMaK project took existing direct routes and linked them across borders, expanded others, and created new ones, or optimised them as concerns their times of availability: 46 percent of the total 466 routes published are available 24 hours a day. The others only have limited availability, mostly weekends and nights.

The two control centres have exceeded the great circle deviation percentages mandated by the EU for the first Single European Sky reference period. The new routes allow for an average deviation of 1.7%, significantly lower than the 4.65% EU requirement. The great circle distance is the shortest path between the departure and destination airports on a globe.

The published routes also enable airlines to plan more efficiently, less fuel can be taken on board, and there will be fewer deviations from flight plans.

Normally, airlines plan their flights along predefined airways which are often significantly longer than the great circle distance. Airways are designed to offer the most capacity and availability possible. They avoid, for example, military training areas which are open to civil traffic only at certain times. In practice, air traffic controllers often offer pilots short cuts called tactical directs. However, aircraft have the amount of fuel on board that they would have needed for their originally planned routes which is significantly more than is needed to fly the direct routes. The weight of this excess fuel increases fuel consumption and reduces payload. Pilots may arrive at their destination earlier than expected which means they may need to fly holding patterns or wait on the ground for an aircraft stand to become available.
User Preferred Routes
Furthermore, the FRAMaK project examined individual flight routes called “User Preferred Routes”. For the direct route options are just the first step in the process of establishing actual Free Route Airspace. With the User Preferred Routes, airlines can choose freely and take dynamic factors such as weather, wind conditions or overcrowded airspace into consideration when planning flights. For the length of a route is not the only aspect that plays a key role in route planning. The project partners analysed 62 flights on six different connections including intra-European flights as well as transatlantic connections. The individual routes are already conceivable today in less complex airspace or at non-peak times. Further studies and further technological development are needed to facilitate them in complex and busy airspace.

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Press contacts:

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH
Nanda Geelvink,
phone: +49 (0) 6103 / 707 - 4164,

EUROCONTROL Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC)
Mireille Roman,
phone +31 43 366 1352,
Deutsche Lufthansa AG
Klaus Gorny,
phone: +49 (0) 69 696 33686,

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 6,049 employees as at 31 December 2013. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,000 air traffic controllers guide up to 10,000 flights in German airspace every day, and about three million movements every year. This makes Germany the country with the highest traffic volume in Europe.

The Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC), operated by EUROCONTROL on behalf of four States, provides control for the upper airspace (above 24,500 feet, i.e. approximately 7,500 metres) of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and north-west Germany. The international area of responsibility it covers is a perfect example of the simplification and harmonisation of airspace in Europe. MUAC is a model for cross-border projects in the spirit of the Single European Sky. More than 1.5 million flights pass through MUAC’s area of responsibility each year, making it the third busiest air traffic control facility in Europe in terms of traffic volume. During the summer, peaks days total more than 5,200 flights.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG is an Aviation Group comprising nearly 500 subsidiaries and affiliates. The Lufthansa Group is dedicated to quality and innovation, safety and reliability. Headquartered in Germany, the Group operates in five business segments – passenger transportation (Passenger Airline Group), logistics, MRO, catering and IT-services. Passenger transportation is the Group’s core business: The airlines engaged in the passenger transportation business are Lufthansa German Airlines (including Lufthansa Regional), Austrian Airlines, SWISS and Germanwings as well as stakeholdings in Brussels Airlines, JetBlue und SunExpress. In the 2013 business year, the airlines in the Lufthansa Group welcomed more than 104 million passengers on board their flights, making it Europe’s leading airline grouping.