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NATS hones flight trajectories for efficiency

UK air navigation service provider NATS says it is on track to meet a target of saving 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from aircraft fuel burn in 2014 compared with historic levels, usingscores from a flight trajectory efficiency measuring tool.

NATS explains it measures the efficiency of an aircraft’s route and trajectory using its three-dimensional inefficiency (3Di) metric, where each flight is compared to a scale on which zero represents total environmental efficiency. Most flights typically score somewhere between 15 and 35.

By providing the most direct possible routes, smooth continuous climbs and descents and optimum flight levels during cruise, air traffic controllers aim to help reduce aircraft fuel burn and carbon emissions, earning a low 3Di score.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority sets continuous improvement targets, and NATS claims it is close to meeting them. The scores only relate to NATS' management of the flight profile – not to fuel saved by airlines’ use of increasingly efficient aircraft.

From January to June 2014, NATS says it achieved a rolling average score of 23.3 against the new tighter year-end target of 23 set by the CAA.

The 3Di system was first introduced in 2012. Ian Jopson, NATS head of environmental and community affairs, says: “We’ve seen a gradual reduction in 3Di scores so far this year, demonstrating that UK airspace efficiency is improving, but we still have more to do to achieve the CAA’s target value by the end of the year.

“We’re currently focusing on a number of small-scale airspace changes, as well as extending the flexible use of airspace with military users and further improvements in continuous descent approaches.”

According to the CAA, achieving the 3Di target will generate 600,000 tonnes of CO2 savings compared to historic levels by the end of 2014 – worth over £120 million ($203 million) a year to airlines in fuel savings.