The reduction equates to more than £115m in enabled fuel savings for airlines and an average 4.3% cut in CO2 per flight.
The improvements are the result of changes to UK airspace that allow for more direct routes and improved vertical profiles; the use of more efficient procedures, such as continuous instead of stepped climbs and descents; and the introduction of new air traffic control technologies.
Over 300 changes to UK airspace have been made over the past six years in an effort to find better and more efficient routes for airlines. This includes the more flexible use of military airspace when not in use, something that has saved 30,000 tonnes of CO2 alone. The introduction of GAATS+, the tools that allow controllers to offer airlines the most efficient altitudes across the North Atlantic has itself enabled savings of over 110,000 tonnes of CO2.
Getting more environmental data into the hands of operational employees has also been a priority, and last year NATS became the first air traffic control organisation to trial the use of near real time environmental efficiency data using its ‘Flosys’ tool.
NATS is the only air traffic services provider in the world to be financially incentivised to improve environmental performance. A reduction of 4.3% means it has exceeded its own interim target of cutting aircraft CO2 by 4% by the end of 2014, ahead of the longer term goal of a 10% cut by 2020.
Ian Jopson, NATS Head of Environment and Community Affairs, said: “We set ourselves these targets as part of our environmental programme because it is the right thing to do for both the environment and our airline customers in terms of cutting their fuel bills.
“Getting to this point has been very challenging. It’s taken significant effort, some innovative thinking and collaborative working with our customers and neighbouring air traffic service providers. To have exceeded 4% is now the perfect springboard to achieving our longer term ambition of a 10% reduction.”
In a statement, the airline co-chairs of the Operational Partnership Agreement, the group that works with NATS to represent airline interests, said: “NATS continually works closely with all airline customers to understand how fuel burn impacts their business and in turn the environment. This focus and partnership together as an industry has led to significant airspace improvements when compared to before the 4% programme started.
“We look forward to this engagement continuing as NATS moves towards the 10% fuel saving target by 2020.”
Further environmental and fuel savings are expected to be enabled over the next five years, with NATS planning the wholesale redesign of UK airspace in order to take advantage of modern aircraft navigation technologies, as well as £600m worth of investment in new air traffic control technologies.