Frequent flyers will hardly need telling that European airspace is becoming increasingly congested, but help is at hand thanks to new technology which uses real-time data to share accurate take-off information with airports across the continent. Funded and led by the Transport Systems Catapult on behalf of the aviation industry, the technology involves software upgrades at UK airports, with the aim of improving airspace efficiency and reducing passenger delays.
With the support of Britain’s main air navigation service provider NATS, the Transport Systems Catapult has developed a solution that is enabling the upgrade of air traffic management systems across UK airports in order to maintain and improve safe, efficient and reliable use of airspace.
Under the current departure control system, an aircraft’s scheduled departure time is based on the information within the flight plan which must be filed a minimum of three hours before the flight departs. There is then no further update to the take-off time until the point when the aircraft finally leaves the ground. This means that some air management decisions taken in the interim rely upon static, often out-of-date, information.
Analysis of off-line data at airports using Departure Planning Information (DPI) suggests that the accuracy of take-off time predictions could improve by around 60%. As well as improving airspace management, the aviation industry says that DPI could lead to improved air quality and reduced carbon emissions.
“When you consider that, combined with Heathrow and Gatwick, this roll-out covers over 70% of all commercial air transport flights taking off in the UK daily, then you realise the scale of improvement that we’re talking about,” said TSC chief executive Steve Yianni.
Real-time DPI enables the aircraft’s progress to be tracked at every stage of taxi and take-off. This information is relayed live from the UK airports deploying DPI to Europe’s central air traffic management service EuroControl.
Operated by touch screen, the system allows air traffic controllers to record, in real time, key stages in the plane’s taxi and runway manoeuvres, providing precise and constantly updated estimates for travel times between each stage.
“Each button-press revises the expected take-off time, leading to greater accuracy,” said the Transport Systems Catapult’s DPI programme manager Krishna Ramcharran. “In the past, you would have a flight plan with an estimated take-off time but until now there has been no way of revising that take-off time until the flight was in the air.”
Since January, DPI has been installed at seven UK airports – London City, Stansted, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Luton. And as part of the same programme, TSC is nearing the end of a procurement process that will provide a low cost solution for up to 25 regional UK airports.
The Catapult’s funding helps Britain’s airports in two ways. Larger airports already using software systems to help them manage aircraft arrivals and departures, can use DPI to improve real-time aircraft tracking. For the smaller airports that don’t use any form of software system for the management of aircraft departures and arrivals, DPI becomes their first electronic tracking system.
Air traffic control professionals are seeing the benefits. “The DPI project is a key deliverable for the UK’s Future Airspace Strategy and with the Catapult’s support we have been able to update NATS control tower systems to provide this more accurate information to our controllers and the European Air Transport Network,” said Andy Shand, NATS General Manager of Customer Affairs.
“With DPI, our controllers will have a more accurate prediction of take-off times. This will allow our airport and airline customers to better plan their operations, while NATS will be able to offer more fuel efficient routes.”