Managing airspace is a complex business. It’s been likened to playing 3D chess, but with the pieces moving at 900 kilometres per hour and the added impacts of weather, restricted airspace and the need to maintain the highest levels of safety.
Little wonder that when you have a system that handles these things well, you don’t want to change it too much. But the way air traffic has been controlled over the past half century is starting to cause issues, particularly with capacity. At the same time, new technology has enabled a mind-shift in the way that air traffic is able to be handled. Aircraft will no longer need to be “controlled” throughout their flight, but the system can be “managed”, making use of the technology available to plan the most optimal route possible for each flight and then managing the airspace to ensure safe operations. It is based on the performance possibilities of the modern aircraft flying our skies, not simply on the position of ground equipment such as radar stations and navigation beacons.
Particularly relevant to aircraft as they approach and land at airports is the concept of “performance-based navigation”, made up of a number of different technologies and procedures. Each of these can help reduce congestion, improve safety even further, cut down on weather issues, usually reduce noise impacts and cut CO2 emissions.
At its most advanced level of performance, the procedures enable aircraft to precisely fly optimal, predetermined paths by using a combination of modern flight management computers, global positioning system (GPS) technology and innovative procedure design. In addition to helping aircraft navigate safely in challenging terrain and weather, these flight paths reduce flight distances and utilise lower thrust settings, saving fuel and reducing emissions.