Interview with Reynir Sigurdsson

Interview with Reynir Sigurdsson

“In ATM everyone is doing their utmost individually to deliver increased performance, but a collaboration like the Borealis Alliance can bring so much more collectively.”

Reynir Sigurdsson Borealis Alliance Executive Director

Bringing together Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and the UK, the Borealis Alliance has been a pioneer in delivering cross-border Free Route Airspace. We spoke to Borealis Alliance Executive Director Reynir Sigurdsson about how the Alliance transforms the way airlines fly through Northern Europe, achieving more efficient and more sustainable air traffic operations.

What was the purpose of setting up the Borealis Alliance?

In 2012 our nine ANSPs joined into a business alliance that enables its members to drive better performance for stakeholders through business collaboration, to improve efficiency and reduce costs and environmental impact on Europe's major transatlantic gateway. The Alliance enables us to share the expertise between our members, create synergies and progress in a way any of us individually would not be able to. The implementation of the cross border Free Route Airspace (FRA) among our nine members is one of our biggest success stories.

What are the environmental benefits recorded so far by the cross-border Free Route Airspace implementation and how much is there still to come and when?

We have calculated the real and verified environmental achievements with the help of the SESAR Deployment Manager and EUROCONTROL, and the first deliverables of the FRA implementation show real benefits from the North European FRA: based on actual traffic for 2018, the savings are 1.7m nautical miles gained by flying shorter routes, 15kt reduced fuel burn and 44kt less CO2 emissions. Now extrapolating towards the future and a full implementation, the estimates based on EUROCONTROL STATFOR forecasts will amount in 2026 to 4.7m NM gains in shorter routes, 30kt of reduced fuel burn and 94kt CO2 emission savings per annum.

“Besides safety and efficiency, the next major ATM contribution is to provide optimal traffic flow based on the total climate effect.” 

Graph showing an increase in reduced fuel burn, cost savings, emmissions savings and seamless airspace

When the Alliance came together, some members were already well ahead of what was required by EU rules: the Irish/DK-SE FAB Free Route Airspace was already in place in 2012 and, in 2015, the North European Free Route Airspace (NEFRA) followed. Iceland’s and the UK’s airspace then followed in steps and finally, we are moving towards a single cross border area of Free Route Airspace covering nine North European countries.

On top of Free Route Airspace, what other operational priorities can Borealis foster to further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint in the short term?

Environmental performance is a top priority for the Borealis Alliance Board, as decided in Riga in March 2020. Since then, we have been striving to find opportunities where we can collectively contribute to more environmental performance. We have established an Expert Environmental Performance Group, which closely examines how we can improve our performance, e.g. by identifying new indicators and looking at developing a Borealis “Environmental Performance Improvement Plan”. This will look at both CO2 and non-CO2 performance improvements, possibly in the context of SESAR3 potential projects. Other indicators such as Continuous Descent Operations/Continuous Climb Operations (CCO/CDO) over the Borealis Airspace are also being analysed.

We participate actively in the work of the EUROCONTROL/EASA ATM/ANS Environmental Transparency Working Group, with five of our Members and the Alliance itself being represented. This is an excellent forum to develop promising ideas and share experiences, which we feed back into the Alliance. With all this, we intend to live up to the expectations of the aviation community and do our part in achieving the common goals, which must be a collective effort.

At European level, what operational initiatives and policies do you consider most relevant to maximise aviation sustainability?

Once FRA has been acknowledged as a European success, the next efforts towards decarbonisation of ATM will probably need to focus on the vertical flight efficiency dimension. CCO/CDO will probably play a role, and we currently ask ourselves whether the 3Di indicator, combining horizontal and vertical flight efficiency and implemented in UK by NATS, could be successful in a crossborder manner. Other potential indicators are currently emerging, based on excess fuel burn, which deserve closer scrutiny.

Finally, the importance of non-CO2 environmental impact and balancing CO2 and non-CO2 effects is more and more acknowledged and deserves consideration. We hope to be able to bring forward ideas and proposals in this emerging domain in the coming months and years.

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