Reducing time spent on a busy runway can increase throughput by 14%

Working with our SESAR partners, EUROCONTROL is engaged  in finding ways to reduce safely the amount of time an aircraft spends on a busy runway. In recent real-time simulations conducted by EUROCONTROL for Zurich Airport and Skyguide, we measured an increase of up to 14% in runway throughput, and identified additional safety benefits.

With the EUROCONTROL Challenges of Growth 2018 study predicting 16 congested airports by 2040, enhancing runway throughput by managing runway occupancy time is a cost-effective opportunity to unlock hidden capacity.

The validations showed that using our Leading Optimised Runway Delivery (LORD) tool in combination with the Runway Occupancy Categorisation (ROCAT) concept and a wake vortex pairwise separation scheme (per aircraft type) was operationally feasible and acceptable during segregated runway operations, increasing the arrival runway throughput and bringing safety benefits – and reducing controller workload at the same time.

The tested concepts are deliverables in SESAR 2020 project PJ02 “Increased runway and airport throughput”, which aims at addressing capacity challenges at major airports. EUROCONTROL is leading the project, working with partners to develop operational solutions and advanced air traffic control (ATC) tools.

EUROCONTROL is working with the same partners on a Very Large-scale Demonstration (VLD) to perform a live trial using the same environment as a step toward implementing the concept tested in the validation exercise.

More about the concepts

Runway Occupancy Categorisation (ROCAT) is an operational concept that defines separation sub-categories based on runway occupancy time, wake minima from European Wake Vortex Re-categorisation (RECAT EU) and reduced radar separation based on ICAO-approved minima.

ROCAT can increase runway throughput by up to 12% where the aircraft traffic mix consists of predominantly medium-size aircraft, especially where reduced wake separation using RECAT is inefficient due to the lack of wide-body aircraft types in the traffic mix.

EUROCONTROL has developed runway occupancy minima to identify runway occupancy time per aircraft type, using machine learning techniques and big data analytics of historical data. The separation minima can be delivered by ATC by changing the separation minima used by controllers separating aircraft on final approach, either manually (i.e. without system support), or through a controller decision support tool.

Working with Zurich airport

Together with Zurich Airport, EUROCONTROL has developed a solution to handle more traffic using decision support based on our conceptual Leading Optimised Runway Delivery (LORD) tool. 

The decision support tool advises the separation minima to be applied by the controller based on the higher separation value taken from ROCAT: Runway Occupancy Time, Wake Vortex or Minimum Radar Separation.

Considering most airports are using 3nm radar minima, and that ICAO authorises reduction to 2.5nm when average runway occupancy is less than 50 seconds,  a 10% increase in runway throughput can easily be achieved with a well-managed runway, depending on the traffic mix.

The real-time simulation showed that arrival runway throughput increased by between 10-14% compared to a baseline scenario of current Zurich operations (Zurich 5 category wake scheme, 3NM MRS and no tool support). There were also clear safety benefits: controller performance improved with fewer separation infringements and missed approaches. In addition, controller workload was reduced even though the controllers handled more aircraft per hour.

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