Environment special: Descent trials taking to the AIRE

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The first transatlantic green approach by Scandinavian Airlines' (SAS) A330-300 inbound from New York was a prelude to much larger roll out of transatlantic procedures aimed at cutting fuel burn, noise and emissions on the ground and in the air for US and European airports.

SAS estimates annual benefits for its flights arriving at Arlanda airport, could reach $6 million in fuel savings with an additional $6 million in cost savings through efficiency and punctuality.

Called the Atlantic Inter­oper­a­bility Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE), the joint programme between the US Federal Aviation Adminis­tra­tion and the Euro­pean Com­mission will include CDA, single-engine taxiing and other "best practices" developed on both sides of the Atlantic, with several new trials starting this year. AIRE was launched at the Paris air show in 2007.

Though savings from individual CDA approaches may seem small - SAS says they'll save about 150kg (330lb) of fuel while producing 470kg less carbon dioxide per "green" approach - the cumulative savings over time and with more aircraft participating are substantial. By using CDAs at its Louisville cargo hub, UPS says it could generate 30% less noise, 34% less emissions and save more than 3.8 million litres (1 million USgal) of fuel per year if its entire fleet of more than 250 aircraft were equipped to perform the approaches.

Delta Air Lines says it saved as much as 500kg (1,100lb) of fuel per approach during a CDA test last year at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, a reduction that would lead to similar significant cost and emissions savings over time with broad fleet participation.

Along with the continued expansion of CDA tests to other airports, including Miami and Atlanta on the US side, AIRE trials on tap for this year include a surface operations test at New York Kennedy (JFK) and "flexible track" oceanic routes for US arrivals.

At JFK, airlines, airport officials and the FAA in June will tap into the airport's Airport Surface Detection Equipment - Model X surveillance radar system data in an effort to analyse and then minimize taxi duration. Shorter taxi times will mean less fuel used, but more importantly for airport neighbours, less pollution: The FAA says 41 of the 50 largest airports in the USA, including JFK, are in "non-attainment" areas for emissions. Shorter taxi times will reduce particulates and sulphur oxides, linked to poor air quality and acid rain and "green­house" gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

By late summer, participating airlines en route to Miami from Europe will have the ability to modify their flight tracks to take advantage of the most favourable winds as part of an AIRE proof-of-concept test. ICAO reports that fuel burn on average can increase as much as 110kg per 100nm (185km) if altitudes are as little as 1,815m (6,000ft) below the optimum cruise level.