ATM Modernization

NATS SESAR 2020 Sims Show Other Ways to Calculate Separation

By S.L. Fuller | October 16, 2017

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Simulations hosted by NATS under the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) 2020 program have showed that some of Europe’s busiest airports could be made more efficient, according to the SESAR Joint Undertaking (JU). Instead of using broad categories for aircraft, like “heavy” and “medium," to guide aircraft separation, using a different system could help decrease separation minimums when they aren’t necessary.

The simulations have studied switching from the broad categorization to “pairwise” separations, SESAR JU said. In the new method, separations would be calculated based on the wake vortices created by each aircraft type, rather than each broad category.

According to SESAR JU, these simulations build on work under SESAR 1 focusing on wake vortex optimization. This included research into pairwise separation for arrivals, as well as the successful deployment of time-based separation for aircraft arriving at Heathrow Airport. SESAR JU said time-based separation at Heathrow has already significantly reduced delays caused by strong headwinds.

The simulations also explored how different weather conditions might alter the dissipation of wake vortices. Strong cross-winds might help clear invisible turbulence more quickly, potentially enabling a reduction in safe separations in certain conditions, SESAR JU said. Simulations were based on how this might be applied at London Heathrow Airport, with the ability to be replicated.

“Whilst these are early stage prototype simulations, the findings have been promising and demonstrate the potential to help airports such as Heathrow, as well as others across Europe, to further enhance runway throughput,”said Claire Pugh, wake optimization concepts and analysis lead at NATS. “We will now use this information and work with our partners within the SESAR 2020 program to prepare for more advanced simulations in 2018.”

The simulations are part of the Increased Runway and Airport Throughput part of SESAR 2020. More simulations are planned by other project members throughout this year and next.

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