Trials set to test environmentally ‘perfect’ air travel

The potential to save 30,000kg of fuel across 60 transatlantic flights is to be tested through a trial to see if environmentally 'perfect' flights are possible on a large scale.

The trial, called Topflight, will feature 60 British Airway departures out of Heathrow to various North American airports over a period of four months. Led by NATS, the UK-based air traffic services company, it will examine the environmental impact of everything from aircraft pushback from the stand and taxiing to the use of an optimised flight profile and continuous descent approach.

At an expected ‘perfect flight’ saving of 500 kg of fuel per departure, equivalent to 1.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions per flight, a successful trial could translate into a huge global environmental gain. Heathrow alone, had more than 1,300 flights arriving and leaving every day in 2011, while NATS handled 2.2 million flights in 2011/12 between the UK and eastern North Atlantic.

The starting point for this work was in 2010 when an ‘environmentally optimised’ Heathrow to Edinburgh flight saved a quarter of a tonne of fuel compared with a standard flight over the same route. The aim now is to see if that can be repeated regularly on a transatlantic scale and be implemented for many flights at the same time, without penalising those in the surrounding airspace.

“Topflight is a great example of the aviation industry working together,” said NATS’ Managing Director, Operations, Martin Rolfe. “The industry has an opportunity to improve its environmental performance and the efficiency and fuel savings make great business sense too.”

Topflight is a SESAR project, coming under the direction of the European Community’s Single European Sky initiative whose aim is to modernise and harmonise air traffic management systems across Europe. With European air traffic expected to double by 2030, SESAR’s challenge is to maintain safety levels while minimising delay, reducing costs and lowering carbon emissions.

The trial, which is being backed by the aviation industry in the UK, Canada and the US, is also supported by British Airways, Airbus ProSky and Boeing.

edie staff

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