SESAR: Towards the digital European sky

The Single European Sky ATM Research and Development (SESAR) innovation cycle has been put in place in support of the EU’s aviation strategy and the SES initiative. It pools the resources and expertise of all ATM stakeholders in a coordinated way in order to define, develop and deploy ATM solutions to fulfil the digital European sky vision that meets Europe’s policy objectives on aviation and air transport.

European ATM Master Plan

The European ATM Master Plan binds together both phases of SESAR research and development, and SESAR deployment. It is the main planning tool that also details the performance goals for key areas, such as the environment where SESAR is targeting a reduction in total gate-to-gate CO2 emissions of 800- 1600 kg (5-10%) by 2035, from a baseline of 16,600 kg for an average European flight in 2012. This includes both airport as well as flight trajectory operational efficiency improvements.

SESAR Joint Undertaking logo

The SESAR Joint Undertaking was initially established in 2007 to deliver technological solutions to transform air traffic management in Europe, in line with the vision of the European ATM Master Plan. The newly established SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking has a 10-year mandate (2021-2031) to drive an ambitious programme to make Europe’s aviation infrastructure fit for the digital age, while offering quick wins to contribute towards the sector’s net zero CO2 ambitions. The scope has been extended to the provision of support for the market uptake of the output from SESAR research and development through demonstrators. Its aim is to leverage the latest digital technologies to transform Europe’s ATM infrastructure, thereby enabling it to handle the future demand and diversity of air traffic safely and efficiently, while minimising its environmental impact in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal.

SESAR addresses the whole scope of aviation’s environmental footprint, from CO2 and non-CO2 emissions to noise and air quality. SESAR Solutions refer to new or improved operational procedures or technologies that are designed to meet the essential operational improvements outlined in the European ATM Master Plan. The SESAR Solutions Catalogue [23]  outlines progress in developing the technological and procedural solutions needed for delivering the digital European sky. The fourth edition of the publication contains 101 delivered solutions that have reached the required level of maturity for industrialisation to address key areas of the air traffic management value chain, notably airport operations, air traffic services, network operations and the enabling infrastructure.

ALBATROSS (2021-2023)

ALBATROSS (2021-2023) is a very large-scale demonstration project that illustrates the potential of the SESAR approach in bridging the gap towards implementation [24] . The objective of the project is to examine the potential for SESAR solutions to realise environmental benefits in real operational environments covering all phases of flight, from flight planning to landing and post-operations feedback. The demonstration concepts include dynamic Route Availability Document (RAD) restrictions, semi-robotic towing vehicle / one-engine taxiing, optimised descent operations, initial trajectory information sharing, slot swapping or re-routing in support of environmental objectives, enhanced civil-military coordination, cross- border free route airspace and use of clean energy to power ATC equipment.

A significant portion of SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking’s budget of €1.6 billion will be dedicated to a flagship programme on the Aviation Green Deal, as outlined in the SESAR multi-annual work programme [25] . Innovative work streams include:

  • Wake energy retrieval when two aircraft fly approximately 3 kilometres apart during the cruise flight phase.
  • Green taxi solutions such as one engine taxiing and semi-robotic towing vehicles.
  • Enhanced understanding of the climate impact of aviation non-CO2 emissions.
  • Environmental dashboards to support ATM decision-makers in making informed decisions and improve communication on ATM efforts on environmental sustainability.
  • Ensuring the ATM system is ready to support new types of aircraft, such as hybrid-electric, hydrogen, electric, drones/UAVs or super/hypersonic aircraft.

The SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM) [26]  plans, synchronizes, coordinates and monitors the implementation of the SESAR ‘Common Projects’ (CPs) that drives the modernisation of ATM in Europe. The current Common Project 1 (CP1) [27]  has various ATM functionalities, deriving from SESAR solutions, that reduce inefficiencies and generate fuel and CO2 savings in different phases of the flight, especially the cruise phase ( Figure 5.9. ).

Figure 5.10. provides a breakdown of CO2 emissions inefficiencies per phase of flight for the average flight in the ECAC area during 2019, predicted improvements by 2030 due to CP1 projects and Master Plan target for 2035.

When comparing the gate-to-gate actual trajectories of European flights against unimpeded trajectories, there is an additional 6% of CO2 emissions in 2019 (around 1 tonne of excess CO2 emissions against 17 tonnes of CO2 emissions for the average flight). The contribution of CP1 projects represent around 20% towards the Master Plan’s performance ambition in 2035.