By Aimee Turner in Vienna

Wake vortex separation between aircraft could be reduced to 2.5nm (4.6km) using the same final approach – weather conditions permitting – according to new research which aims to boost runway capacity throughout Europe.

Speaking in Vienna at Aeronautic Days, a showcase of European research developments, Lennaert Speijker, senior R&D manager at Dutch national aerospace laboratory NLR, reported on the progress of ATC-Wake, an experimental integrated air traffic control wake vortex safety and capacity system.

“We have tested the system through trials with simulators and active air traffic controllers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Sweden and the conclusions we have drawn are that the concepts that we have developed are acceptable and operationally usable,” he told delegates.

The aim of ATC-Wake is to reduce separation under favourable wind and weather conditions and involves predicting and detecting those conditions. “Currently, there can be a separation of up to 6nm for light aircraft following heavier aircraft; but we have achieved 2.5nm separations that can be used between all aircraft during arrivals with the presence of a crosswind.

“For departing aircraft, the separation we have achieved is 90s between all aircraft departing on the same runway. Currently that can be up to 3 minutes,” said Speijker, adding that data from aircraft as large as a Boeing 747 had been analysed, although data for the Airbus A380 was unavailable.

Speijker said limits on runway capacity by 2015 could result in delays of up to 6min per flight. “With ATC-Wake, a delay reduction of 22% would result in a capacity increase of 10%,” he said.

Speijker said the next step will be to validate ATC-Wake through further studies into safety, human factors, benefits and technology: “The best approach would be to continue with airport shadow-mode field trials.” He added that the project will apply for four-year funding under the new European research vehicle Framework 7 and, if successful, likely run from the end of 2008 until the end of 2012.

As well as NLR, the ATC-Wake consortium includes the Catholic University of Louvain, German research organisation DLR, Eurocontrol, Thales Air Defence and Thales Avionics.

Source: Flight International