Eurocontrol set for 'free flight' first

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Flight trials have begun in the latest phase of the primary Eurocontrol programme investigating the possibility of shifting air traffic control functions into the aircraft cockpit.

The third stage of the FREER programme (FREER-3) includes the pioneering step of trialling an airborne conflict-detection and resolution system in-flight.

It is being conducted in partnership with Lufthansa, SAS, the German air traffic control authority DFS and the Swedish CAA.

At next month's IATA Global Navcom conference the team plans to give a live demonstration of the conflict-resolution software at work using a Lufthansa Boeing 747 en route from Frankfurt to Vancouver and a Fairchild Metro of regional carrier OLT.

The demonstration will show a quasi-simulated conflict in which the aircraft will actually be at different flight levels, for safety purposes, but the software will ignore the vertical separation and generate a solution to ensure horizontal separation.

Eurocontrol project manager, Vu Duong, told the Flight International Air Navigation Conference in Amsterdam today that the project team completed the third test flight on Sunday following an initial flight in the first week of September and a second soon after in which unspecified equipment problems were encountered.

The FREER programme officials work closely with the team running the related North European Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (NEAN) project and uses the same Lufthansa 747-200s, SAS Fokker F-28s and OLT Metro aircraft involved, among others, in that programme.

In the first phase - FREER-1 - air traffic control was "fully delegated" to the aircraft in an area of low-density traffic and no ground infrastructure.

FREER-2 examined the concept of partial delegation of air traffic control to the aircraft in high-density airspace with final responsibility for separation staying with the controller - a key element in Eurocontrol's transition strategy.

FREER-3, which uses the same Carmenta MMI5000 cockpit display used in NEAN will incorporate the world's first known aerial demonstration of conflict resolution.

The avoidance manoeuvre will undertaken by the Metro and devised by an upgraded, on-board version of the highly interactive problem server (HIPS) software tool used in earlier Eurocontrol programmes to generate automatic conflict resolution solutions for air traffic controllers.