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A Good Air DayEnvironmentally friendly flights across the Atlantic are a step nearer thanks to an international aviation partnership.

The Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) conducted flight demonstrations over the last two weeks designed to reduce fuel consumption for oceanic flights. This was done by optimizing flight trajectories across the Atlantic.

The concepts demonstrated are also part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), the transformation of the national airspace system using 21st century technologies to meet changing aviation demands.

The FAA worked with AIRE partners Nav Portugal, Air Europa and the European Commission to optimize routes of trans-Atlantic flights. AIRE was formed in 2007 to minimize global aviation’s impact on the environment.

Eight Air Europa flights were flown with optimized trajectories from Madrid to the Caribbean through oceanic airspace controlled by Santa Maria, Portugal, and the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center. Flight dispatch at Air Europa recalculated trajectories in light of each flight’s current environment, winds and the company’s cost index.

“In this particular oceanic demonstration we performed in-flight optimization,” said FAA Manager for Oceanic Service Improvements Kevin Chamness. “Periodically, about every ten degrees of longitude, a new profile for each flight was coordinated based on a calculation made at Air Europa flight dispatch.”

Recalculated profiles were sent simultaneously to the oceanic control at New York Center and the flight crew. New York then used the center’s conflict probe to assess whether the optimized profile would keep the flight clear of other aircraft.

At the same time, the flight crew assessed the proposed reroute to ensure that it didn’t take the aircraft into adverse weather or turbulence. The flight crew would request the reroute via datalink from New York, which would already have assessed the new profile.  If the new profile was conflict-free, the crew’s request for the reroute was approved just like any other request for a change in route, speed or altitude. If not, the oceanic coordinator assessed an alternative solution that might be a slightly different route, or could include a time or altitude restriction.

That solution was then sent back to Air Europa’s flight dispatch, which re-assessed it in terms of business and fuel costs before generating a new profile. In effect, an ongoing feedback loop was established throughout the flight.

Air Europa is the primary source of emission information in this month’s tests, providing the partnership with data on planned and actual fuel burn. The FAA’s Office of Environment and Energy converts the fuel burn information into actual carbon emissions.

The current AIRE demonstrations are the first in a series, with another round expected in the fall. The hope is to include more flights in those demonstrations using a greater number of cities, and also to start including eastbound trans-Atlantic flights.

More sophisticated automation capabilities are planned for the next demonstrations. So far, the optimizations have been done manually, but ideas have been generated on ways to automate the process and this month’s tests will add to them.

Similar work is being done in the Pacific under the Dynamic Airborne Reroute Program. There, airline operations have been told that they are not only entitled, but actively encouraged, to recalculate flight profiles.