Saving Carbon as well as Lives – Advanced ATC is at the forefront of the climate struggle

No matter the size or location of the airport in question, Air Traffic Control operations are designed to protect human life first and foremost. Most directly, this means providing reliable, predictable and wholly safe conditions for planes to land and take off. However, in the long term, ATC can help save lives in the ongoing global climate struggle, by improving efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint of the aviation industry as a whole. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which advanced ATC is saving life one CO2 tonne at a time.

Advanced Flight Data Processing systems: We constantly hear that leveraging data is the key to unlocking sustainability benefits in almost any industry. This is absolutely the case in aviation, where better data management leads to better decision-making in the ATC tower. Advanced Flight Data Processing systems allow for enhanced collection, collation, analysis and presentation of incoming data, allowing ATC operators to better optimize air routes, leading to shorter flight paths, lower fuel consumption and, ultimately, reduced emissions.

Taxibots: A plane’s fuel consumption starts the moment the engines are turned on, so it makes sense to start them only when absolutely necessary. More airports are experimenting with towing planes both to and from the runways, rather than having the aircraft taxiing under its own engine power. Taxibots (automated and electric/hybrid towing vehicles) have recently been put to use in trails at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AAS), as Air Traffic Control the Netherlands (LVNL) continue to find new ways to cut carbon. Their newest taxibot towed a KLM B737-700 from the terminal to the runway with the airplane’s engines turned off, reducing CO2, NOx and (ultra) fine particulate matter emissions. Ultimately, LVNL predicts that sustainable taxiing will reduce fuel consumption during taxiing by between 50% and 85%.

AAM (Advanced Air Mobility) Automation: The vision of AAM is rapidly coming together, as the rapid growth in sophistication and commercial viability of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft ramps up. New airspace management models will have to cater to much more densely populated setups, without compromising on safety. Automation will bear more of the workload as airspaces fill up with more moving parts than a team of human ATC operators could hope to comfortably manage. Automation is already responsible for so much of the data processing and presentation elements of the equation, but there may soon come a time when ATC towers include automated solutions in more of an active decision-making role, albeit with human oversight and intervention wherever necessary. New environmental impact studies from Air Traffic Solutions demonstrate the need for automation, often empowered by AI, to forge more sustainable ATC setups as part of a complete overhaul of airport design.

Exemplar: Reims Airport
On 8th December, Reims ACC became the first operational site for 4-FLIGHT, a next-generation ATC system. The centrepiece innovation of 4-FLIGHT is its intuitive Human-Machine Interface (HMI), where human operators are provided with the most sophisticated UI yet seen in the industry, combining a holistic yet highly granular and customisable set of displays and controls for all operational data.
With it, ATC operators at Reims ACC are empowered with much more accurate forecasts of 4D flight trajectories, letting them plan and adjust flight paths ‘on the fly’ as conditions change, ensuring the safest yet most sustainable operational outcomes. No matter the density of the traffic in their air space, operators have the tools to forecast, anticipate and respond without compromising either safety or efficiency.