PRC outlines benefits of Free Route Airspace

Free Route Airspace (FRA) could be deployed through the entire Eurocontrol airspace area, giving airlines more freedom to choose the best flight plan route and the possibility of avoiding restrictions imposed by a rigid route network.

In a final draft of a report detailing 2016 performance, Eurocontrol’s Performance Review Commission (PRC) said greater use of Free Route Airspace would lead to a more flexible environment which could respond more dynamically to changes in traffic flows.

“Although flight efficiency will never be 100 per cent, the benefits that the implementation of FRA can bring in terms of flight efficiency gains and resulting reductions in costs, fuel burn and emissions are substantial,” it said.

This illustrates the level of flight efficiency in actual trajectories (X-Axis) and filed flight plans (Y-Axis) by 30 states. States in which FRA is available 24 hours are shown in red.

“The benefits are clearly visible. On average, states where FRA has been fully implemented all day show a 35 per cent point higher flight efficiency compared to the other states were FRA has not been fully implemented.

“Furthermore, it can also be seen that the gap between the flight plan efficiency and the efficiency in the actual flown trajectory (the vertical distance between a point and the diagonal) is narrower than for the other states (1.0 per cent point smaller gap).”

“Actual operations closer to plan improves the level of predictability for all players involved with a positive impact on capacity and resource utilisation,” it said.

It noted that the significant gap between flight plans and actual flown trajectories, which has been highlighted in previous years, is clearly more prominent in states where FRA has not been fully implemented all day.

The PRC said this provides evidence that, while the inefficiencies are the result of complex interactions between airspace users, air navigation service providers and the Network Manager, FRA enables a better match between the planning and operational phase.

It reported that research is ongoing to better understand and quantify the individual contributing factors (flight planning, awareness of route availability, civil-military coordination, etc.) in order to identify and formulate strategies for future improvements.

A crucial prerequisite for the development of a better understanding is the collection of better data on the activation of special use airspace and on route availability when the flight plan was submitted by airspace users (shortest available route).

It also noted in the report that European air traffic is forecast to reach 14.4 million flights on an annual basis by 2035, representing a 50 per cent increase over 2012 levels. Eurocontrol stated as airspace is a finite resource, there is a “need to increase the operational efficiency of the air navigation system to be able to accommodate future traffic demand, including new airspace user groups such as remotely piloted aircraft systems”.

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