How can aviation reduce its impact on the environment?

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SHAFAQNA – Increasingly efforts are being undertaken by countries and organisations around the world to reduce their impact on our environment. It’s critical that we, as an industry, play our part.

Aviation is critical to the world’s economy; it helps drive economic growth, employs millions of people and ensures that we can remain connected to friends and family across the globe. However, as demand for flying continues to grow emissions are inevitably increasing.

We must work together to continue to deliver those benefits whilst managing our environmental impacts.

We have already seen excellent examples of this; from the design of ever greener aircraft and engines through to how we manage aircraft. Collaboration within the sphere of air traffic management is a growing opportunity for the industry to positively influence the efficiency of every phase of flight.

As an organisation at the centre of air traffic management, NATS is acutely aware of the contribution we can make to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions — we have a strategic goal to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 10 per cent per flight by 2020.

There are constant innovations in this area and we are continually learning to ensure we deploy best practice and help our customers improve efficiency and reduce their emissions.

Leading role

We are taking a leading role in the Sustainable Aviation Continuous Descent Operations (CDO) campaign, which has been developed to try and encourage the notion of cleaner, quieter flying. A continuous descent keeps aircraft higher for longer, so is both quieter and more fuel-efficient.

The unique aspect of this particular campaign has been the large-scale simultaneous effort across 15 ATC units, eight airlines and 23 airports to jointly deliver a step change in CDO performance.

After the first six months, the campaign had achieved over 18,000 more continuous descents than the same six months the previous year.

Another example is Topflight, a NATS-led project designed to test elements of the Sesar concept in a real operational environment. Around 100 trans-Atlantic flights were optimised to maximise their efficiency and to save fuel and emissions.

Measures included greater use of continuous climb and descent profiles and more direct routings; the use of more flexible Oceanic clearances; the flexible use of military airspace; and reduced engine taxiing.

The project analysed a significant amount of data on each flight in order to understand where efficiencies had been made. By combining the different operational elements, the trial helped to save up to half a tonne of fuel per-flight. That’s the equivalent to nearly 1.6 tonnes of CO2.

Flight optimisation

The year 2014 also saw NATS adopt the use of near real time airspace efficiency monitoring using an in-house developed tool called Flight Optimisation System — or Flosys.

Using real radar data and combining it with Nats’ 3Di airspace efficiency metric, it produces a graphical representation of every flight in UK airspace. So NATS controllers can immediately review performance and identify areas for improvement, or best practice techniques to share.

But even if we were able to drastically cut carbon emissions tomorrow, the impact from climate change could still be significant, so we must be prepared. As an industry, aviation is used to dealing with disruptive weather events — from high winds and snow to thunderstorms — but those events are likely to become much more common in the years to come, so preparation is key.

It will be a great privilege to be able to share these examples with delegates at Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi, but to also learn from the experience of an international audience. The common theme through them all isn’t simply the smarter use of new technology; it’s the fact that sustainability is embedded into the working lives of every controller.

It’s when everyone considers sustainability to be part of the day-job that you can really start to make a difference.

The drive towards sustainability in the aviation sector is well underway but there is certainly more to do. And it makes economic sense — reducing emissions will mean less fuel burnt, reducing costs to the industry.

However, one thing is for certain, collaboration as demonstrated by all the above examples will help us deliver more environmentally efficient flights sooner than if we work alone.

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