April 9, 2021 | Quieter flight

Optimised approaches for less noise and lower fuel consumption

  • The goal of the research is to achieve more efficient aircraft approaches through changes in air traffic management, as well as supporting pilots with current air traffic control requirements and prevailing weather conditions.
  • By the end of 2022, the researchers want to develop proposals for optimising operations both on board aircraft and on the ground.
  • Focus: Aeronautics, climate-friendly air transport

Approaches to busy airports are often noisier and less fuel-efficient than they technically could be. This is because aircraft have to be configured in an individual process before touchdown. Pilots reduce speed, set flaps, extend slats and finally deploy the landing gear. However, air traffic control restricts the flight profile, and pilots often have limited information about weather conditions. Thus, the practical configuration sequence and the noise and fuel consumption of an approach depend very much on the decisions made by pilots and their access to important information such as the current wind conditions. With the development of the Low Noise Augmentation System (LNAS), the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt; DLR) hasalready shown how pilots can be effectively supported for noise- and fuel-consumption-optimised approaches. The European 'Dynamic Configuration Adjustment in the TMA [Terminal Manoeuvring Area]' (DYNCAT) project is now analysing the interaction between aircraft and air traffic control during the approach phase. When the project is completed at the end of 2022, the researchers aim to have developed suggestions for improvements to operations both on board aircraft and on the ground, in order to enable a whole-system solution for quieter and lower-emission approaches.

"We want to find out where regulatory changes in air traffic management can make approaches more efficient," explains DYNCAT Project Manager Fethi Abdelmoula from the DLR Institute of Flight Systems. "We are also looking at how pilots can be better supported under existing air traffic control requirements and prevailing weather conditions." At a kick-off seminar for the project in March 2021, a broad international group of participants consisting of air traffic controllers, pilots and experts from various air transport authorities including the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) and the German Air Traffic Control Service (Deutsche Flugsicherung; DFS), discussed this subject with researchers. "Here, it was already apparent from the first exchange that pilots would like additional information and more communication with air traffic control," Abdelmoula continues. The project work is also based on extensive measurement data acquired during 640 approaches to Zurich Airport. These are being comprehensively evaluated in order to more precisely identify the potential for reducing noise and emissions with optimised approaches.

A landing approach begins when an aircraft leaves its cruising altitude some distance before the destination airport. By the time it has descended to an altitude of 1000 feet, at approximately 5.5 kilometres (three nautical miles) from the touchdown point, the aircraft must be in full landing configuration with the slats, flaps and landing gear extended. Up until this point, there are large variations in speed, altitude and the timing of deployments of high-lift devices and landing gear along the flight path. This in turn leads to different distances and timings for the approach phase, but also to varying fuel requirements and noise emissions as perceived on the ground. The goal is to make these sequences more predictable and thus easier to plan for the pilots and to support them in implementing them efficiently.

About the EU project DYNCAT

The European 'Dynamic Configuration Adjustment in the TMA [Terminal Manoeuvring Area]' (DYNCAT) project is funded by the Single European Sky ATM [Air Traffic Management] Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 893568. The project partners are the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt; Empa), Swiss International Airlines, the Swiss SkyLab Foundation and the avionics division of Thales Group, as well as the DLR Institute of Flight Systems, which is responsible for managing the project.

DLR – research for climate-neutral air transport

The consequences of climate change demand action for climate-neutral air transport. This involves new technologies that will also ensure global mobility in the future. With its 25 institutes and facilities in the field of aeronautics research, DLR is driving this change forward with technologies for sustainable, environmentally compatible flight. Expertise from DLR's research programmes in space, energy and transport will also play an important role in this.

DLR has systems expertise in aeronautics research and sees itself in the role of an architect. DLR’s goal is 'emission-free air transport', in order to achieve the climate targets that have been set. In doing so, the results of research must flow directly into the development of new products.

There is a considerable need for research and development on the path to climate-compatible air transport, which requires continuous funding and support. Much of this needs to be researched at a fundamental level, tested in practice and approved. DLR can do this with large-scale facilities such as its research aircraft, propulsion demonstrators and large-scale computers. In 2020, DLR published the white paper 'Zero Emission Aviation' together with the German Aerospace Industries Association (Bundesverband der Deutschen Luft- und Raumfahrtindustrie; BDLI). DLR is currently working on a Zero Emission strategy.

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Falk Dambowsky

Head of Media Relations, Editor
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-3959

Fethi Abdelmoula

Project Manager LNAS
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Flight Systems
Lilienthalplatz 7, 38108 Braunschweig