Estonian Air Navigation Services continues contribution to Single European Sky concept


Flying in North-European airspace starting from 23rd of April is becoming even more efficient. Flight operators can plan to fly to their destinations using the shortest trajectories possible, the air routes will remain in history.

The key enabler for such change was the implementation of Free Route Airspace in autumn of 2015. Free Route Airspace (FRA) is specified volume of airspace in which users may freely plan a route between a defined entry and exit point. Subject to airspace availability, routeing is possible via intermediate waypoints, without reference to the air traffic service (ATS) route network. Inside this airspace, flights remain subject to Air Traffic Control.

Although the number of flights today in Estonian airspace has decreased by almost 80% compared with the same period last year (April 2019), ANSPs (Air Navigation Service Providers) of entire Europe are getting ready for the post-crisis period and working on their airspace structure improvement. So far flight operators had option to plan their flights in North-European airspaces using both published air routes and/or navigational points but from now on, the trajectories of their flights in North European FRA (NEFRA) block shall be planned in their flight plans using mainly published significant navigational points or LAT/LONG coordinates within Estonia, Finland and Norway.

The expected benefits of deletion of routes within FRA airspace are as follows.

More optimal use of airspace:

  • Aircraft Operators (AO-s) are no longer directly or indirectly dependent on ATS routes and can use airspace more efficiently by using DCT-s between the significant navigation points in airspace as enabled by FRA rules.
  • Military can design exercise areas more efficiently as by specific ATS route(s) do not restrict the designs and re-route in new environment are technically and operationally less complicated.

Trajectory description in FPL follows same logic:

  • AO-s need to build up Flight Plan (FPL) trajectory by using the significant points in airspace.
  • Air Traffic Controllers have same attitude towards received FPL’s. In principle, all FPL’s trajectories could be assumed to be optimum for AO-s needs.

Airspace structure and its description becomes “lighter” and more transparent:

  • ATS route network disappears from relevant maps.
  • New environment simplifies airspace structures by removing mixed-mode operations of ATS routes and Free Route Operations.

Airspace users can continue taking advantage on efficient cross border procedures as cross border cooperation between the States becomes more relevant and this harmonizes Air Traffic Control and FPL procedures within the area.

“This means for passengers shorter travelling time, but in no way the flight safety will be jeopardized. Flying along a more optimal trajectory means less fuel consumed, which significantly reduces both costs and the environmental impact,” says Tarmo Pihlak, Estonian Air Navigation Services (EANS) Airspace Manager explaining the change. According to Mr. Pihlak, this specific airspace development has been a long-term process, which is based on the practical experience of several States in designing optimum routes, implementing FRA (Free Route Airspace) and due account is given to many factors, from weather conditions to cost efficiency.

“During more than ten years international aviation organisations like CANSO, BOREALIS, IATA as well as States, aviation enterprises, air traffic controllers, airspace planners, system engineers etc. have been working on reducing CO2 emissions caused by the airspace management,” added Mr. Pihlak. In 2019, the direct aviation ‘contribution’ against all CO2 emissions was ca 4 per cent. If we leave out the current traffic decrease due to the ongoing crisis, the emissions have been growing, despite the fact that within last decades the aircraft have become almost 50 per cent more efficient, but their number had grown many times over, and before the coronavirus was foreseen, the air traffic in Europe was almost to double by 2030.

In addition to NEFAB project, EANS has also been actively participating in other projects contributing to the implementation of Single European Sky* initiative. Cross-border Air Traffic Control Service cooperation is ongoing with ANS Finland in the frames of FINEST programme, where the whole airspace of the Helsinki and Tallinn FIRs (EFIN and EETT) between FL95 and FL660 is in focus. The air traffic sectors to support the air traffic in this airspace will be established not based on national boundaries, but based on air traffic flows. The provision of air traffic services in these sectors can be transferred dynamically between both ANSP-s. The programme implementation is planned for April 2022.

ATM News SES Europe