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OPTIMAL project holds final forum in Paris

The partly EU-funded OPTIMAL project, developing innovative procedures for aircraft approach and landing phases, held its final public forum on 25-26 June 2008 in Paris. The event was attended by more than 150 participants from Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

Airplane landing © Peter Gutierrez
OPTIMAL approach
© Peter Gutierrez

OPTIMAL is an air-ground co-operative project launched in February 2004 and co-ordinated by Airbus. With an overall budget of €42 million, its goal has been to increase airport capacity while minimising noise nuisance and improving operational safety. The project brings together 24 companies and institutions, including major European aviation stakeholders, from aircraft and rotorcraft manufacturers and equipment suppliers to air navigation service providers, research organisations and several small and medium-sized enterprises.

Project coordinator Yohann Roux of Airbus described a range of achievements, from new approach and satellite navigation-based procedures to enhanced vision in the cockpit and new air traffic control tools.

Yohann Roux © Peter Gutierrez
Yohann Roux
© Peter Gutierrez

"More and more people are using aircraft," he said, "both for business and pleasure. The OPTIMAL project is developing new methods and tools to help minimise the environmental impact in terms of emissions and noise, while accommodating the need for more traffic and mobility. And at the same time we are working to improve the level of safety and service."

New approaches

Conventional aircraft landing approaches involve step-wise descent, in which pilots decelerate, reduce altitude and then reaccelerate before completing their final descent. OPTIMAL researchers speaking in Paris explained new procedures for continuous descent approach, which saves fuel and makes less noise on the ground.

Partners also discussed the use of new GNSS (global navigation satellite system) technologies to help guide aircraft on difficult landing approaches, again aimed at increasing efficiency and capacity in both small and large airports.

AENA's Aitor Alvarez-Rodriguez said, "Today's GPS and GLONASS systems do not provide sufficient accuracy for safety-critical applications like aircraft landing. Therefore we need augmentation technologies such as GBAS, SBAS and Europe's new EGNOS system."

OPTIMAL final forum © Peter Gutierrez
OPTIMAL final forum
© Peter Gutierrez

OPTIMAL has also developed procedures for innovative 'dual displaced threshold' operations, allowing increased airport capacity through reduced aircraft separation during approach phase.

A key contribution

Roux says the results of the OPTIMAL project represent a substantial contribution to Europe's larger Single European Sky implementation programme, 'SESAR', which is now seen as central to the modernisation of European air traffic control infrastructure. SESAR was initiated by European ATM organisations but now has the support of the entire air transport community. It is being coordinated by EUROCONTROL, also a core partner in the OPTIMAL project.

All of the OPTIMAL results are backed by a solid testing programme, using real aircraft at real airports. Roux believes the taxpaying public will be the ultimate winner.

"This work will mean real benefits to European citizens," he said. "Increasing efficiency means lower operating costs that can be passed on to consumers. And we will see not only improved mobility and greater accessibility of smaller and more regional airports, but also reduced delays and reduced environmental impacts."

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