[Avionics Today July 7, 2014] European airlines and operators are flying a combined 60,000 nautical miles more than they should be on a daily basis, according to a new report from Air Traffic Management (ATM) organization Eurocontrol.
There are an estimated 8,000 flight plans filed by European operators daily that feature routes that are longer than the best route available, Eurocontrol said. The inefficient routes result from the need for improvements to the design of the airspace, a disconnect between flight plans filed and the routes actually flown and inefficient operator flight planning, according to Eurocontrol.
Razvan Bucuroiu, head of Eurocontrol's operations planning unit said the organization wants to achieve a "borderless airspace structure" above flight level 315 (FL315), where operators fly preferred routes. Airlines flying in Europe deal with a much different Air Traffic Management (ATM) structure than that of the United States, as different Air Traffic Control (ATC) agencies control different blocks of airspace. That causes some flights to go along inefficient routes, because of how controllers from different states are managing them.
“We currently have fully – or partially – implemented free route airspace in 23 area control centers in Europe and the aim is to achieve 25 by the end of this year," said Bucuroiu.
Another factor contributing to the inefficient routes is the greater volume of "highly performant" aircraft, Bucuroiu said. The greater number of modern high performing modern aircraft being deployed by operators today pushes the demand for flights occurring between FL310 and FL390.
Bucuroiu also said there is a disconnect between the actions of ATCs and the actual European route network.
“What the controller wants to do when he sees an aircraft in his sector is to get rid of it as soon as possible,” said Bucuroiu. "So the controller gives the pilot a direct routing. But there is no logical relationship between the actual trajectories of the flights and the route network…We are saying to them: wouldn’t it be better for traffic predictability, for your own sector, for air traffic flow management purposes in general, that you get the flight plan that corresponds to the actual trajectory of the aircraft?"
Eurocontrol introduced the Flight Efficiency program in May 2013 to coordinate with aircraft operators and flight planning service providers to improve the routes that operators are flying by improving the flight planning process. The organization has also introduced a program to allow airlines to review their flight plans and the actual routes that they flew, and compare that with other users of the same route.
Eurocontrol Direct Network Manager Joe Sultana said his organization hopes to inspire airlines to improve flight planning with the initiative.
Some European carriers, such as Thomas Cook Airlines of Belgium, are taking matters into their own hands by working directly with Eurocontrol on the problem. Chris Woodland, manager of air traffic services with Thomas Cook, said the airline has been working with Eurocontrol for two years and now has a method for identifying more efficient routes.
Woodland said a new technology called the "opportunities tool" from Eurocontrol has the ability to select the "cheapest route." On a route between its hub airport and Casablanca, Thomas Cook is saving "200 or 250kg of fuel each flight" because of the new tool.
"One major change has been the move to analyze the most efficient routes based on cost and not just fuel. That’s having a big impact. When you have a very cheap country that sits next to a very expensive country you will fly a lot longer to save a lot of money. That’s not efficient. If something was done about that at a European level we would see a big change in the way we operate," said Woodland.
Check Eurocontrol's full report here