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A step change to quieter, smoother flights

All of us expect our airplane landings to be as smooth as possible, but what about being as quiet as possible? ask Ian Jopson, Head of Environmental and Community Affairs NATS, the UK’s leading air traffic services provider.

With global air traffic set to increase, it’s more important than ever that air aviation works hard to combat both noise as well as the emissions impacts of flying. The design of ever greener aircraft and engines is already helping to combat noise, but there is also an important role for air traffic management to help positively influence the efficiency of every phase of flight.

A smooth continuous descent, instead of a series of steps, results in quieter, more fuel-efficient landings. But it requires extra effort from pilots and air traffic controllers as they need to liaise with each other constantly to manage the aircraft’s speed, thrust and landing settings against external factors such as wind and routing requirements.

NATS’ Continuous Descent Campaign engaged with air traffic controllers across the country and 7,000 pilots, resulting in 18,000 quieter arrivals in a six month period in 2015, reduced costs and CO2 emissions, and positioned the UK aviation sector as a global leader in addressing its environmental impact.

Continuous Descent Operations (CDOs) are well established in the UK, particularly in the London area where average performance across London’s four largest airports is around 86%. However across the rest of the UK the average performance is lower, around 70%.

The campaign set out to improve descents across the UK by 5% to deliver over 30,000 individual quieter flights, save around 10,000 tonnes of CO2 and offer fuel savings worth around £2m. The unique aspect of this particular campaign has been the large scale simultaneous effort across 15 Air Traffic Control units, eight airlines and 23 airports to jointly deliver a step change in performance.

To launch the campaign, NATS sought support of the industry coalition, Sustainable Aviation, of which it is the chair. Sustainable Aviation provided initial points of contact in the airlines and airports and gain their formal agreement to participate and share data; not without its challenges in an industry where competition between individual entities can be fierce. Having brokered a collaborative relationship, NATS then spent several months developing communication materials to support the campaign.

We are the only company in the world to produce information about continuous descent performance and share it with customers and stakeholders. The campaign continues to deliver data and analysis on CDO performance across the UK industry. From the insights provided, airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers are continuing to strive for ever better CDO performance.

By working together with airlines, airports and NATS controllers we are delivering tangible benefits in CO2 and noise reductions, leading to a template for global behavior change for others, and also helping us to meet our goals of 4% and 10% ATM CO2 reduction targets. So it’s win-win all around.

The campaign won BITC’s Responsible Business Awards 2015 in the Engaging Customers on Sustainability category.

The Responsible Business Awards are open for entries until 12 February 2016. 


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