February 11, 2013
Credit: Credit: Heathrow Airports, Ltd.
Improving air traffic management over the Atlantic is a high priority for the aviation industry, and new initiatives are underway that promise a step change in efficiency and safety in this vital airspace.
A confluence of factors has sharpened the focus on routes between North America and Europe. This is the most important intercontinental traffic corridor, but while incremental ATM advances have been made, non-radar airspace rules have been a major constraint. Potential benefits are sizable, and new developments in procedures and technology mean some of that value can be realized.
Nav Canada and the U.K.'s NATS, which handle the bulk of transatlantic traffic, are continuing to refine their high-altitude highway network to improve flow. Air navigation service providers (ANSP) on both sides of the Atlantic, in conjunction with major aerospace companies such as Boeing, are testing increasingly advanced ways to optimize flight profiles. And gaps in radar coverage are being steadily closed, thanks to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) networks being established in Iceland and Greenland.
The transatlantic corridor is “one of the most economically important global routes, and it sustains a lot of commerce,” says Boeing Vice President for ATM Neil Planzer. “The biggest [potential] savings are over the North Atlantic. We know we do not operate as efficiently as we can, and we know we have the technology” to make improvements. Airlines “ply this route with some of the best-equipped aircraft in the world, and we do not take advantage of that.”
Nav Canada and NATS are putting a lot of effort into increasing the efficiency of the North Atlantic track system, which is adjusted daily and is used by about 1,200 flights a day. They work jointly on most initiatives so benefits extend all the way across the Atlantic. One such program reduces separation between aircraft on the same track and at the same altitude, and another being developed would reduce the distance between tracks.
The first of these is known as RLongSM, and allows longitudinal separation to be reduced to 5 min. from 10 for aircraft pairs that are properly equipped. It is used for about 200 aircraft pairs per month, even though it is technically still in trial mode. The appropriate regulatory groups have approved it, but the documentation is still in process, says Nav Canada's Vice President for Operations Larry Lachance. To participate, aircraft must have Future Air Navigation System (FANS) 1/A controller pilot data link communication (CPDLC) capability.
The other improvement being developed would reduce the lateral separation between the tracks, and is known as RLatSM. This will allow track separation of half a degree, or about 30 nm, versus the current standard of 1 deg. or 60 nm.