Innovation Awards profile: Irish Aviation Authority - better air traffic management

Irish Aviation Authority: better air traffic management

“Typically when an aircraft can’t land it is put into a holding stack where it flies in an oval pattern until it can land”

“Typically when an aircraft can’t land it is put into a holding stack where it flies in an oval pattern until it can land”


Necessity was the mother of innovation in the case of the Irish Aviation Authority’s (IAA) environmentally friendly air traffic management system Point Merge.

“Back in the days of the Celtic Tiger the amount of traffic coming into Dublin Airport kept going up and up, and we started looking at a way to cope with this which didn’t involve hiring and training additional staff or expanding our facilities,” says IAA air traffic management operations expert Terry Symmans.

The issue the air traffic controllers had to deal with was too many aircraft arriving for too little airport capacity.

“Typically when an aircraft can’t land it is put into a holding stack where it flies in an oval pattern until it can land,” says Symmans.

“Aer Lingus carries 20 minutes of extra fuel on all its Heathrow flights to allow for this.”

The IAA innovation eliminates the old stacking system saving time, fuel, money, and emissions in the process.

Instead of aircraft being diverted into a stack they are guided onto an arc flight path which keeps it at the same distance from the runway at all times and allows it to resume its landing path with a single turn.

“If you imagine the path taken by an aircraft in a stack as a piece of spaghetti and then straighten that out into a single line that’s what we have done,” says Symmans.

“If an approaching aircraft can’t land straight away they go onto the arc which is about 28 miles from the runway and they will be guided into land before they reach the end of that arc.”

Research began on the Point Merge system in 2006 with much of the work carried out by Symmans and others in the EuroControl (the Agency for Safety of Air Navigation in Europe) experimental facility in Paris.

And following more than five years of development and testing the IAA became the first air navigation service provider in the world to successfully deploy the new system in December 2012 when it began operating at Dublin Airport runway 28.

The system has been successful on every measure.

Independent analysis conducted by NATS (the UK air navigation service provider) for three months before and three months after Point Merge was deployed (a total of 38,000 flights) showed savings across a variety of areas.

These included savings of 127kg or 19.1 per cent in fuel requirement equal to €93 per flight; average reduction in distance flown of 11.3 nautical miles per flight; and 19.1 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions per flight.

And the real beauty of the system is that it doesn’t require a single euro of investment in new equipment for either airports or airlines.

“It’s a win win situation,” Symmans says. “It doesn’t require any changes to existing air traffic control systems and the existing avionics systems on modern aircraft can handle it as well. All these savings and efficiencies are available at no cost to the airlines or the air navigation service providers.”

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