Airbus-supported flight trials demonstrate the benefits of improved aircraft spacing and merging

29 November 2012 Headline news

A major milestone was reached in the Airbus-supported (Single European Sky ATM Research) programme with a series of flight trials conducted on 27 November to validate an improved system for aircraft spacing and merging in congested air traffic environments.

This system – called Airborne Separation Assistance System Spacing (ASPA) – provides flight crews with data on surrounding air traffic in flight, and enables the pilots to achieve and maintain a specific time behind a specified aircraft ahead.

The trials were performed from Toulouse, France using an ASPA-configured Airbus A320 jetliner, and marked the world’s first flight performed with integrated, 100-per cent automatic ASPA functionality. To evaluate the spacing and merging improvements, the A320 followed two commercial Air France shuttle flights and a Beluga aircraft. It performed three approaches on a flight lasting approximately three hours.

Airbus ASPA project leader Sabine Cordero Vieyres said on the occasion: “We are very satisfied with the behaviour demonstrated by the ASPA functionality. The spacing accuracy was extremely precise throughout the spacing phase. This achievement is the result of effective collaboration among our partners within the SESAR programme, Air France and the air traffic controllers who perfectly managed this new type of arrival procedure in a traditional ATM environment.”

ASPA operations provide a wide range of operational benefits, including increased air traffic management (ATM) capacity through enhanced aircraft spacing and regularity of aircraft flow, reduced workload for air traffic personnel and better flight crew awareness.

The SESAR programme – in which Airbus has a leading role – is an ambitious initiative launched in 2004 by the European Commission to reform the architecture of Europe’s ATM, with the primary objective to develop a global system ensuring the safety and fluidity of air traffic over the coming 30 years.

Airbus is an active proponent for modernised ATM, with a goal to achieve the highest operational efficiencies through more direct routings – which results in 10-per cent less aircraft fuel consumption and significant reductions in CO2 and noise emissions.

For the ASPA research and evaluations, Airbus is joined by several partners from across the aviation sector, including: Air France, DGAC/DSNA, EUROCONTROL, Honeywell and Thales.

A second ASPA flight trial will be conducted next year in Rome to demonstrate enhanced capabilities in a dense traffic environment.