Article

EUROCONTROL Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) offers a new service to airlines for environmentally more responsible routes

John Santurbano

John SanturbanoDirector of MUAC

EUROCONTROL Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) launched the ECO Service which proposes more environmentally responsible routes through the Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre’s (MUAC) managed airspace.

The service is a new addition to the Pre-Flight Check (PFC) process deployed three years ago, to improve punctuality and flight efficiency. The ECO Service targets all greenhouse gas emissions while also taking into account reserved airspace for military activities, network constraints and flight schedules. The environmental data is estimated by the Advanced Emissions Model (AEM) developed and maintained by EUROCONTROL’s Aviation Sustainability Unit in the EUROCONTROL Innovation Hub (Brétigny/ France). Through advanced algorithms, AEM processes flight trajectories on a flight-by-flight basis to estimate the amount of fuel burn and related exhaust emissions including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapour, the oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, unburnt hydrocarbons and particulate matters. This identifies the routes with a smaller environmental impact, enabling MUAC to propose these to participating airlines on a daily basis, taking care to exclude those that conflict with other network priorities. 

Airlines are welcoming the initiative and uptake is currently around 25% of the opportunities we propose.” says John Santurbano, Director of MUAC. Reduced flight emissions are frequently associated with a shorter flight duration and lower costs which also helps to promote the concept. Still in trial phase and yet to achieve full coverage and resourcing, the MUAC ECO Service has already generated more than 5,500 eco proposals, each generating flight emissions savings. The goal is to expand participation in the ECO Service from today’s 120+ airlines to serve all aircraft operators and share route opportunities with each of them. 

Adding more data is another objective, for example working with Computerised Flight Plan Service Providers and airlines to expand aircraft performance information. In addition to aircraft type, MUAC is looking to include aircraft mass, speed, way points and other predictions going forward. “We have started working on the integration of more frequent weather updates from our German weather partner,” says Santurbano. “We include wind predictions and expect to add more precise weather data.” 

“Thanks to the Dutch Flexible Use of Airspace Cell based at MUAC and the direct link with the military authorities in Belgium and Germany, we immediately know when an area becomes available and can directly coordinate delivery of routes through these deactivated areas with the aircraft operators (both tactically and in the pre-flight phase). The direct contact enables adjustment of their flight plan according to the latest situation which results in cost and environmental benefits.”

Tactical opportunities

On top of more eco-friendly flight planning, enhanced data will help MUAC’s ambitions to enable air traffic controllers to offer more environmental trajectories during tactical flight phases. As it is important to know the arrival runway and the likelihood of that changing, a model to predict runway usage has been developed and, if this information is known six hours in advance, MUAC can propose a more optimal route. Air traffic controllers can then plan more efficient smooth descent paths in place of stepped operations for example, to reduce emissions. 

MUAC already identifies environmental opportunities not yet available to other stakeholders as a result of the existing collaborative network. Integration of civil and military operations at MUAC supports efficient cross-border civil-military services in the upper airspace of Germany and the Netherlands. “Contact with the military zones in our airspace is direct, either to the operations room or central supervisor,” explains John Santurbano. 

Thanks to the Dutch Flexible Use of Airspace Cell based at MUAC and the direct link with the military authorities in Belgium and Germany, we immediately know when an area becomes available and can directly coordinate delivery of routes through these deactivated areas with the aircraft operators (both tactically and in the pre-flight phase). The direct contact enables adjustment of their flight plan according to the latest situation which results in cost and environmental benefits.” 

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