Optimised transatlantic flight trial begins

14 June 2013

A trial of environmentally optimised transatlantic flights has begun as part of the TOPFLIGHT project being led by air traffic service provider, NATS.

TOPFLIGHT is part of the SESAR programme, the technical and operational component of the European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative which aims to modernise and harmonise air traffic management systems across Europe.  The project is co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

Every element of each trial flight, from push-back time, to climb and descent profile and routing, has been designed to test the SESAR concept, minimise fuel burn and maximising efficiency.

As such that each flight could save up to half a tonne of fuel – the equivalent to 1.6 tonnes of CO2.

The trial includes up to 60 British Airways (BA) flights over the course of the summer. The first took place at the end of May between Heathrow and Canada following six weeks of cockpit simulation work.

TOPFLIGHT will test elements of the future SESAR concept in the current operational environment. Some of these elements are already business as usual for NATS controllers, such as the use of continuous climb departures to minimise fuel burn, but others have required new procedures such as giving aircraft an initial oceanic profile before departing Heathrow.


TOPFLIGHT also provides an opportunity for NATS and the project partners to review and feedback on the feasibility, benefits and scalability of the SESAR concept more widely, as well as saving potentially large amounts of fuel and CO2.

NATS Project Manager Joe Baker said: “One-off trials, such as the NATS Perfect Flight project in 2010, have already proven the level of benefit that can be achieved in isolation, but these wider trials are an exciting opportunity to look at how we might implement these ideas for multiple flights in a real life operational environment.

“TOPFLIGHT will therefore develop and assess procedures that assist NATS controllers in providing a service that further minimises the environmental impact of aviation.”

As well as NATS and BA, the TOPFLIGHT consortium consists of Canadian air traffic service NAVCANADA, Airbus ProSky, Boeing and Barco Orthogon. It is also being supported by the Irish Aviation Authority.

The initial TOPFLIGHT results will be known in the autumn, with further trials planned for the winter to focus on reducing holding at London Heathrow via the use of a cross border Arrival Manager, or XMAN.


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