New Heights

A consortium made up of researchers from the University of Malta’s Institute of Aerospace Technologies (IAT), QuAero and Malta Air Traffic Services (MATS) is currently developing a system to reduce aircraft fuel consumption during climbs and descents within Maltese airspace.

According to the annual statistical summary of Malta International Airport (MIA), in 2015 alone, a total of precisely 34,283 aircraft movements were recorded at MIA. Furthermore, an A320/B737 class of aircraft, common in these aircraft movements burns, on average, approximately 1.8 tonnes of fuel during climb and 0.4 tonnes during descent in 30 minutes of flight.

This generates 5.7 tonnes and 1.2 tonnes of greenhouse gases (CO2) during a climb and a descent respectively, besides producing other emissions such as NOx. This results in an estimated total average emission of over 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum around the Maltese Islands due to inbound and outbound flights.

Currently, there are no available tools for air traffic controllers to support or be sensitive towards optimal climb and descent profiles. Meanwhile, aircraft systems utilize a Cost Index function that provides a rough balance between time of flight and fuel burnt, but provides no objective means to flight crews by which to fly efficiently.

This research effort is being performed under the Clean Flight 2 (CF2) project, which is funded by Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) with a budget of €200,000. CF2 builds on the work carried out in the Clean Flight project (2011-2013), which focused on reviewing air traffic structure and demonstrating potential benefits through simulation. These potential benefits can be summarised as follows:

  • for climbs, a total of 105kg and 330kg per flight can be saved in fuel and CO2 emissions respectively
  • for descents, a total of 290kg and 914kg per flight can be saved in fuel and CO2 emissions respectively

The proposed system pivots around a novel software tool which will run on a computer in the ATC Operations Room. The software tool enables Air Traffic Control officers to generate the optimal climb or descent for a single aircraft while checking for any possible conflicts with other traffic.

Aircraft type and mass, weather conditions, route constraints and air traffic control constraints, are being taken into consideration in the proposed solution. Support for multi-aircraft optimisation is also being developed as part of an MSc thesis of Andrew Spiteri, an engineering student at the University of Malta who is actively involved in the project.

The software tool is currently being finalised in preparation for safety assurance certification. Flight trials involving actual aircraft are planned to take place in mid-2018, assessing all aspects of the system.

The proposed optimisation process

Posted in Features, Innovation

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