Flight plan processing enters Free Route Airspace era

17 November 2011

The first Free Route Airspace initiatives started as early as 2009, in various forms. As of today, flight plans containing en-route directs between Entry-Exit points are validated against ATC operational airspaces such as Stockholm and Malmö Control Areas.

As a result of complex system and data modifications, operational features supporting the deployment of Free Route Airspace (FRA) operations in various parts of European airspace are now operational and can be processed by the Initial Flight Plan Processing System (IFPS) at EUROCONTROL.

Free route airspace initiatives support the objectives of the Flight Efficiency Plan a combined initiative of IATA, CANSO and EUROCONTROL that was signed in August 2009. Its aim is to enhance European en-route airspace design by giving priority to FRA implementation.

The benefits

FRA operations across Europe will bring these benefits to airspace users:

  • reduced fuel burn
  • reduced CO2 emissions
  • reduced mileage
  • reduced flight time
  • improved flight plan efficiency

FRA implementation today

FRA implementation can take various operational formats. The states where FRA is implemented today are Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, as well as the Upper Area Control Centres in Maastricht (MUAC) and Karlsruhe.

Portugal and Ireland implemented FRA in 2009. It is applicable above flight level 245, 24 hours a day, and there is no fixed route network above FL245. Direct flying is allowed between entry and exit points, via intermediate waypoints if necessary.

In Sweden, FRA has been implemented for all flights with a planned cruising level above FL285. The Denmark/Sweden FAB will implement FRA in a phased approach from November 2011.

Maastricht and Karlsruhe have opted for a combination of geographical (by sectors and flow – northbound, southbound) and time-based (weekends, night, etc), with implementation phased over 2011 and 2012 by publishing allowed direct (DCT) segments.

Flight planning direct routes

Free Route Airspace (FRA) is a specified airspace in which users may freely plan a route between a defined entry point and a defined exit point, subject to airspace availability. Aircraft operators equipped with enhanced flight planning capabilities may plan a route via defined entry/exit points and (where allowed) intermediate way points.  Within FRA airspace, flights remain subject to air traffic control. Where the route network is not removed, filing along route network is still allowed.

What we have learned so far

Early in the summer of 2011, ANSPs, aircraft operators, flight plan service providers, military and airspace experts met to discuss the practical aspects of large scale implementation. As a result, processes, procedures and practical solutions have been developed to facilitate the future implementation of free route operations, including cross border ones.

Experience gained so far has shown that the Network Manager and ANSPs have to work efficiently together to facilitate the phased implementation of FRA. It is clear that operational validation needs to begin at least five AIRAC cycles in advance, to make sure that all the elements are correct and in place: airspace organisation, application of restrictions (such as city pair level capping, update of national RAD, procedures (including civil/military) and flight planning aspects.

The Route Network Development Sub-Group of the Network Operations Team coordinates the harmonised implementation of Free Route Operations.  

More information

The FRA concept of operations and a related catalogue of projects are presented in the European ATS Route Network document (ARN Version 7) which will be an important element of the European Route Network Improvement Plan.

Detailed information on FRA implementation can be found in national Aeronautical Information Publications (AIPs).

For more information, contact Razvan Bucuroiu, Head of Operations and Planning Unit, Directorate Network Management

Or visit our website: Network Management.

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