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Study of the Free Route Airspace in the future Southwest (Spain-Portugal) Functional Airspace Block

fotikoStudy of the Free Route Airspace in the future Southwest (Spain-Portugal) Functional Airspace Block is the Master Thesis of César Antonio Nava Gaxiola. César Antonio studied the Master in Aerospace Science and Technology (MAST) in EETAC and his Master Thesis, which was supervised by Cristina Barrado, was qualified as excellent.

The European air traffic management (ATM) systems handle around 26,000 flights daily. Recent long term  forecasts indicate that in 2030 about 5 to 19% of the demand might not be accommodated.

So, taking into account this scenario, European ATM systems have to look for solutions for accommodates the increasing air traffic flows in future airspaces, whilst cutting costs and improving its performance.

One of these solutions came with the initiative of organizing airspace into Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), according to traffic flows rather than to national borders. Such a project was not possible without common rules and procedures at European level.

Functional Airspace Blocks implementation pretends to reduce Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) costs and offer more direct routes to airspace users; in the same way FAB permits to settle new concepts like the Free Route Airspace.

This project pretends to evaluate the future Southwest FAB (Portugal-Spain) development by studying the planned phases and simulating them using an airspace evaluation tool. All these to bring an evaluation of benefits or problems from three different perspectives: Airspace Users, Safety and Air Navigation Service Providers.

The thesis objectives are focused in providing metrics like distance saving, traffic conflicts or ATC taskload, to assess and compare with a baseline scenario. Additionally, another project aim is to obtain ATC controller opinions, to contrast simulation results with controller’s subjective appreciations.

The SW FAB development for a long term contains the biggest Free Route Airspace in Europe, permitting an increase in flight efficiency for those oceanic flights on the northern-southern corridor. In addition, the main beneficiaries of SW FAB implementation are commercial airlines, pilots and passengers.

Thesis results indicate that those benefits are estimated in distance saving at least of 15000 NM per day, that represent an estimated daily saving of 157 fuel tons, 47 CO2 tons and approximately 90000€ per day. In the same way, a flight time reduction is expected for airspace users in the future SW FAB.

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Image: Southwest FAB phases in a long term (2020-2025), that’s mean no national airspace frontiers between Portugal and Spain.