Improved network flight planning during the pandemic delivers more direct, ‘greener’ flights

Airplane with contrails

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the EUROCONTROL Network Manager (NM) together with the operational stakeholders has removed 1,200 network restrictions – the so-called Route Availability Document (RAD) measures - to improve flight planning options, making flights ‘greener’ by ensuring more direct routings.

This has the potential of saving aircraft operators 26,000 nautical miles per day, and reducing emissions. NM aims, once air traffic picks up again, to work closely with its partners to ensure that as few restrictions as possible are inserted back into the network, helping us build back better the network with the support of aircraft operators, air navigation service providers and others, and driving the change to a more sustainable and efficient network management.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the EUROCONTROL Network Manager has built up an unprecedented level of collaboration with all aviation partners. One positive from the reduced traffic is that it has allowed us to optimise trajectories, making flights extremely efficient. In the long run, we need to ensure these improved flight planning options remain in place as far as possible to contribute to more sustainability and efficiency.”

RAD measures enable air navigation service providers (ANSPs) to manage major traffic flows through the airspace in their area of responsibility. NM is responsible for preparing a common RAD reference document, and coordinating, validating and publishing it. NM has been proactively providing airspace users with information on additional rerouting opportunities that have arisen from the relaxed RAD restrictions.

This is a concrete example of how the EUROCONTROL NM works with its partners, operational stakeholders from ANSPs and airspace users, on optimising flight efficiency and lowering emissions.

It is estimated that operational inefficiencies amount to 6% excess fuel burn and emissions when comparing actual trajectories to theoretical unimpeded trajectories. The decrease in air traffic has provided a golden opportunity to lift restrictions on a number of traffic flows, delivering swift operational improvements that reduce aviation emissions and make a major contribution to the climate-neutrality goals set out in the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal.

The relaxation of RADs will continue until 2021, with NM aiming to continue to work closely with all operational stakeholders to minimise any additional restrictions in support of improved flight planning options for airspace users.

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