In a true display of collaborative action across oceans and skies bringing emissions reductions, Nav Canada, Air France and partners collaborated to safely challenge traditional oceanic air traffic management rules of fixed speed and altitude… with impressive results.

Traditionally, flights fly a fixed route, speed and altitude to cross the Atlantic, limiting air traffic controllers’ ability to always offer the most efficient routes where there is no radar. The Engage project demonstrated the safety and viability of varying speeds and changing altitudes to take advantage of the jet stream and air traffic patterns during flight. 

The implementation of radar and a new type of aircraft tracking technology known as ADS-B on the east coast of Canada and in Greenland enabled the application of significantly reduced aircraft separation standards. The additional surveillance opened flight levels, routings and flexibility in the airspace surrounding southern Greenland increasing capacity in the area, creating opportunities for a greater number of carriers to vary speed and altitude which allows for impressive fuel economy benefits. 

Nav Canada led a group of air traffic management providers and commercial air carriers in a collaborative project to use variable Mach (aircraft speed) and flight level in airspace over the North Atlantic from 2011 to 2013. The project consisted of two phases. Phase One began in August 2011 with NAV Canada conducting flight trials with NATS and five carriers. These trials tested the viability of flexible altitude change and corresponding change in aircraft speed.

Phase Two of Engage in 2014 involved further safety validations and focussed on implementing the concepts trialled in Phase One in the long term. The North Atlantic Systems Planning Group – a body established by ICAO – endorsed a proposal to amend its procedures, which would remove the requirement for fixed speed.