Free route airspace (FRA) is a specified airspace within which users may freely plan a route between a defined entry point and a defined exit point, with the possibility to route via intermediate (published or unpublished) significant points, without reference to the ATS route network, subject to airspace availability. Within this airspace, flights remain subject to air traffic control.
Free route airspace
Giving users the freedom to plan a route in Europe's airspace.
FRA is a way of overcoming the aviation sector's efficiency, capacity and environmental problems by helping to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, while improving flight efficiency. At the same time, it paves the way for further enhanced airspace design and ATM operational concepts.
With free route airspace projects now in place across more than three quarters of European airspace, the region’s flight efficiency targets are within grasp. Route extension - the difference between the flight flown and the corresponding portion of the great circle distance – due to airspace design went down from 3.58% in December 2007 to 2.00% in December 2021, thanks in part to initiatives like free route airspace and despite significant disruption in the network.
FRA is a key landmark in achieving free routeing across European airspace on the road to SESAR's business trajectories and 4D profiles. It will make it possible to meet the demands of future airspace users over the next 50 years, including civil and military unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), supersonic and hypersonic transport, spaceplane operations to sub-orbit and orbit, high altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS) platforms, plus balloons and airships.
For airspace users
The move from routes to free route airspace availability offers significant opportunities to airspace users.
Once fully implemented at European level, these improvements should allow the following savings, compared with the current situation:
tonnes of fuel
fewer CO2 tonnes
in fuel costs savings
For air navigation service providers
Operating an FRA environment offers improved traffic predictability thanks to more stable trajectories. At the same time, it enhances the use of conflict detection tools. The FRA concept can lead to a better spread of conflicts compared with the concentration of conflicts generated by the former fixed ATS route network.
Our studies also show a slight decrease in controllers' workload as a result of free route airspace implementation, mainly coming from a decrease in radio transmissions, monitoring and coordination tasks.
All air traffic controllers (ATCOs) working with free route airspace are adamant that they do not want to go back to a fixed ATS route network. Previously, aircraft received tactical directs from controllers to shorten their route, but there was no logical correlation between the fixed ATS route network and how the aircraft actually flew. Free route airspace offers airspace users the ability to fly directly according to their filed flight plan route while ensuring efficiencies in fuel planning, consumption and costs.
At EUROCONTROL, we initiated the development and implementation of the FRA concept in cooperation with civil and military experts in airspace design, the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) Member States, air navigation service providers (ANSPs), airspace users, flight planning organisations and relevant international bodies.
In our capacity as Network Manager (NM), we are currently responsible for the implementation of an advanced concept of operations and free route operations, while providing the pan-European view of FRA deployment. We ensure and coordinate the gradual implementation of FRA, in a harmonised way, throughout European airspace.
Technical and operational support
As Network Manager, we provide support to ANSPs in the form of airspace design, concept of operations, advice on aeronautical publication and the pre-validation of each new FRA environment to ensure that airspace users are able to plan flights in line with the concept.
Our dedicated teams deliver appropriate solutions to further enhance operational performance and resolve any potential problems, which may arise following the implementation of the FRA. We offer proactive coordination and technical and operational support for local or sub-regional free route airspace initiatives, ensuring that the requisite network improvements are in place to support those initiatives. Contact us to learn more.
Concept of operations
The FRA concept of operation provides a framework for the harmonised and safe implementation of free route operations in Europe when a State, functional airspace block or ANSP decides to implement it. Planning for the further extension of existing cross-border FRA operations, across large portions of European airspace, is ongoing and will lead to implementation during the next decade.
FRA concept elements are described in the following documents:
FRA has been successfully implemented in much of northern, south-east and central south-east Europe, as well as in Portugal – the first country to introduce full free route airspace on 7 May 2009.
As expected, most of Europe's airspace have implemented initial FRA by 31 December 2022. Final FRA is expected to be implemented by 31 December 2025 (see Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/116 for Europe-wide implementation).
For more details, see below free route airspace implementation map - 2024 outlook and download the latest FRA implementation projection chart
This map is for information purposes only. This document may be copied in whole or in part, provided that EUROCONTROL is mentioned as the source and to the extent justified by the non-commercial use (not for sale). The information in this document may not be modified without prior written permission from EUROCONTROL. National boundaries depicted on the chart are only indicative and have no political significance. Although great care is taken in both the collection of aeronautical data and the production of the chart, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Errors brought to EUROCONTROL's attention shall be corrected. The use of the document is at the user’s sole risk and responsibility. EUROCONTROL expressly disclaims any and all warranties with respect to any content within the document, express or implied.
Implementation at our Maastricht UAC
We have implemented free route airspace at our Maastricht Upper Area Control (MUAC) Centre. Learn more about when and how you can benefit from FRA on our dedicated page.
Europe is the first region in the world to have implemented a full FRA concept, although flight efficiency initiatives do exist in various forms in other parts of the world, such as North America and Australia.
FRA was introduced by EUROCONTROL in 2008. Further development of the concept and deployment with stakeholders were made possible by the:
- Commission Implementing Regulation(EU) 2019/123 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of air traffic management (ATM) network functions and repealing Commission Regulation (EU) 677/2011.
Annex I to Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/123 describes the European Route Network Design function and the European Route Network Improvement Plan (ERNIP) as including “an agreed European route network and, where feasible, free route airspace structure designed to meet all user requirements”.
This project has been co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.