A320 testbed to trial automated airborne separation

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Airbus is to use its A320 test airframe to conduct in-flight trials of a fully-automated separation assurance system to maintain spacing behind other aircraft.

The MSN1 airframe has been configured with an airborne spacing function, designated ASPA, which will manage the separation task.

Three commercial Air France shuttle flights will participate in the trial, with the A320 following the aircraft under pre-determined separation criteria.

The overall concept, due to be introduced around 2018, involves optimising spacing and delegating separation responsibility to pilots during approach. Aircraft are allocated a specific arrival time to a waypoint, merged into an approach stream, and assigned a time-based spacing which is controlled by the ASPA function.

Airbus says this will increase capacity by optimising aircraft spacing and regulating the flow of aircraft, while pilots will also be made more aware about their place in the arrival sequence.

The three trial approaches will be performed in a single flight which will depart from, and land at, Toulouse and last some two or three hours. This flight is scheduled to take place on 27 November.

Airbus says the test marks the first time an aircraft will fly with a fully automatic, integrated ASPA function.

Along with assessing the system's ability to manage the spacing behind the Air France flights, the trial will examine other aspects of aircraft behaviour - such as fuel consumption and passenger comfort - during the spacing acquisition phase and subsequent maintenance of separation.

The tests aims to demonstrate the feasibility and operational benefits of automated separation, as part of the broader Single European Sky air traffic management programme SESAR.

Airbus says the trial "represents a major milestone" for the project, and adds that a second flight trial with ASPA is tentatively scheduled to take place in Rome in October-November 2013. This will demonstrate enhanced separation assurance capabilities in dense traffic.