Single Sky will save 16 million tonnes of CO2 a year
By Isabelle Smets | Monday 15 June 2009
The drive to improve the environmental performance of aviation cannot be limited to aircraft alone. Equally important are the optimal management of air traffic and rationalisation of operations (reduced waiting time before take-off and landing, developing optimal descent procedures to help reduce emissions during landing, etc.). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that 18% of aviation fuel is consumed needlessly due to inefficient infrastructure and operations.
Air traffic management in Europe is not outstanding at present. The air traffic control system has evolved very little over the last 40 years. As the volume of air traffic continues to rise, the environmental cost is high.
In the early 2000s, the reorganisation of air traffic was considered essential based on the expected increase in flights by 2020. This reform, called the ‘Single European Sky’, is aimed at developing more direct routes that are shorter, more fuel-efficient, less costly and less polluting. According to EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani, every flight between London and Madrid includes an average of 123 kilometres too many compared to an ideal flight path, which amounts to more than 1,200 unnecessary kilos of CO2 per flight.
The backbone of the single sky is the creation of «functional airspace blocks» (FAB), which divide up airspace on the basis of traffic flows rather than on the basis of national borders. The goal is to do away with these unnecessary kilometres
(1). «On average, aircraft fly 49 km longer than strictly necessary due to airspace fragmentation,» notes the Commission. «All in all, improving both air traffic management and airport operations could reduce emissions by 16 million tonnes of CO2 per year.»
The member states have not rushed to set up a real single European sky but, under a recent reform of the system, states and aviation service providers will have to meet binding performance objectives on safety, the environment, capacity and profitability. Airlines, whose forthcoming inclusion in the European emissions trading scheme (ETS) could make delays and detours particularly costly, are very interested. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 468 million kms of unnecessary flight-time were chalked up in 2007.
The technological component of this reform of air traffic management is known as SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research Programme). The public-private research programme involves companies such as AENA, Thales, Airbus, Honeywell and Alenia Aeronautica in the development of technologies and operating procedures that will optimise air traffic management in the future. Research contracts were signed a few days ago for €1.9 billion, with the technologies expected to be introduced between 2012 and 2020. SESAR is expected to reduce the environmental impact of every flight by 10% through a reduction in the amount of fuel used.(1) Nine FAB are planned in Europe, including a major Central Europe FAB that will cover Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland: a surface area of 1.7 million km2 that accounts for 55% of flights in Europe and covers the busiest airports.