Despite conflict on their doorstep and the challenges of a post-pandemic world, Dāvids Tauriņš, chairman of Latvian air navigation organisation LGS sees a brighter, greener future

Can you discuss LGS’s environmental programmes?

Sustainable development is at the core of LGS operations. Our overall objective is to design airspace, procedures and tools to support airlines in conducting safe, efficient and environmentally responsible operations. In recent years, LGS has implemented several dedicated projects that contribute to reducing environmental impact, such as Free Route Airspace (FRA), Performance Based Navigation (PBN) and Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM). 

The A-CDM was a joint effort with Riga International Airport [in the capital city] and the national carrier airBaltic and was co-funded through the Connecting Europe Facility. Today Riga is among 33 European airports and the only one in the Baltics where A-CDM is implemented. In five years, collaborative decision making will allow us to save 1,193 tons of aviation fuel, reduce CO2 emissions by 3,757 tons, and save 100,000 taxi minutes. 

The PBN is another project we implemented jointly with Riga airport in 2021. The implementation involved airspace re-design, procedure design, including continuous climb and descent operations and upgrade of navaid infrastructure. Through PBN we facilitate a greener use of airspace, assisting airlines in saving fuel and minimising the environmental impact by reducing noise and aircraft emissions.

LGS was an early implementer of Free Route Airspace. Can you share some of the environmental successes with us?

Borealis FRA is a big success story. LGS implemented FRA in 2015, well ahead of the regulatory requirements, together with the Estonian, Finland and Norwegian air navigation service providers, our partners in North European Functional Airspace Block, NEFAB. It was followed with a continuous FRA with Denmark and Sweden and became a stepping-stone for the Borealis FRA Programme.

This joint effort of all Borealis Alliance members, nine ANS providers, responsible for handling 39% of the European air traffic, enables considerable annual benefits for customers. Latest calculations show that as of 2022, flying in the seamless FRA area will help save 7m nm – or 1m minutes – and burn 46k tons less fuel, resulting in 146k tons less CO2, and 641 tons less NOx emissions annually.

Let’s consider the day-to-day air traffic control implications of FRA.

Major cross-border projects are always a challenging task with assigning experts, validating concepts, synchronising timelines and upgrading technical systems. In the case of FRA, it was also a completely new mindset: how to build a system where classic routes coexist with free trajectories – or are removed. To succeed, one has to think beyond the national borders and local regulations.

How has the ongoing conflict in Ukraine impacted your airspace management?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has a noticeable impact on our operations and finances. A significant number of LGS operated transit flights used to cross Russian airspace. Since spring 2022 the portion of transit flights in our airspace has dropped by 35%. The average distance flown and the average weight of the aircraft have also decreased. As a result, our income has halved.

Having barely recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, we once again had to mobilise all resources and cut expenses. The European Commission approved Latvia’s Performance Plan for RP3 and it will help us to secure and improve our economic standing and invest in projects that will benefit our airspace users. We are not alone in this situation – Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Poland have similar concerns.

Can you explain how LGS is currently using (or planning to use) digital tower technology?

Digitalisation and remote services are at the core of today’s aeronautical services. LGS is now in the initial research phase and once it is completed we plan to set up the first remote ATC tower at a regional airport, pending further analysis. The remote technologies will be further enhanced within REACT – a major project to renovate and modernise LGS ATM Infrastructure in Riga airport. The new facility will host a Remote Tower Control Centre, which will allow controlling up to four remote aerodromes with low density or irregular traffic.

How do you see the UTM and ATM functionality being integrated?

Latvian Civil Aviation Authority and LGS have partnered to establish the information infrastructure for UAS [unmanned aircraft system] management and monitoring, which will be a co-supplier of the data for UTM [unmanned aircraft traffic management] systems. Over 2021-2022 the system’s impact assessment, concept, business processes and business models were delivered. LGS plans to set up a system and procedures for interaction and co-ordination with UTM in the areas where UAS operations might potentially impact ATM, for example in the vicinity of aerodromes with regular traffic. Over 2023-2026, this activity will deliver procedures and technical solutions in line with international and local regulations and concepts.

LGS is working with the national mobile network operator – LMT – to develop UTM solutions. Can you share an update?

LGS partnered with LMT during Roadshow 2022 in Riga, one of several field trials set up to demonstrate the scalability of the UTM architecture in the local environment. A test environment was set up at LGS and several scenarios were tested together with LMT and other partners, through live demonstrations of co-ordinated flights of piloted aviation and UAV, first responder UAS operation near Riga airport and other activities.

These trials were held within the SESAR JU project GOF 2.0 Integrated Urban Airspace Validation – a multi- stakeholder project focusing on safe, secure, and sustainable integration of UAV [unmanned aerial vehicles] and air taxi operations in the urban airspace. Continuous co-operation and research are ongoing, to explore and implement the UTM-related aeronautical data and information distribution solution between LGS AIM system and UTM solutions developed by LMT.

Is LGS involved in any UAM [urban air mobility] trials that you can discuss?

LGS has joined a group of partners in the Digital European Sky Industrial Research Call with a SESAR3 tender OperA – or Operate Anywhere which aims to enable and accelerate uptake of sustainable UAM services, through validation, live demonstrations and standardisation. Within the project, LGS will provide ATC services and co-ordination with UTM needed to carry out the technological solution tests for cross-border cargo deliveries by unmanned aircraft.

What are you most excited about for the year ahead – for LGS or the industry?

In recent years, the global economy and air navigation services have been affected by crises. Irrespective of that, our focus is on maintaining safe and sustainable air navigation services. The importance of innovative solutions cannot be underestimated as they help us to increase efficiency while reducing the environmental footprint. In addition, the aviation industry should plan wisely to be able to accommodate the increase in air travel.

Main image credit: Unmanned aircraft system roadshow in the GOF 2.0 integrated Urban Airspace Validation project, April 2022 LGS

Article originally published in Air Traffic Management magazine, issue 1, 2023.  Want to receive all of the latest articles as soon as they are published? Register now for your free digital subscription.