South East Europe FRA Project Garners Kudos

HungaroControl's free route airspace project has allowed carriers to choose their routes as they see fit.
Credit: HungaroControl

A free route airspace (FRA) project initiated by HungaroControl, Hungary’s air navigation service provider (ANSP), is a finalist in the World ATM Congress’ Maverick Awards for the flexibility it has given airlines and subsequent fuel savings.

The South East Europe Free Route Airspace (SEE FRA) project has allowed operators to choose their routes as they see fit. Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia are also involved. Calculated daily savings amount to up to 10,000 NM and therefore 70 metric tons of fuel.

The conventional way of allotting routes to flights is along a predefined, mandatory route structure–so-called ATS routes. “In 2015, we asked ourselves, ‘what if we eliminate all ATS routes and create a FRA with entry and exit points?’,” HungaroControl head of air traffic services in Budapest Jozsef Bakos said.

The approach is to give the airline the freedom to select the optimum trajectory. “From my standpoint, I cannot say which flightpath is the optimum, depending on high-altitude winds or anything else important for the carrier,” Bakos explained.

That freedom was introduced in Hungary in February 2015. In August that year “our Romanian colleagues asked us for free border crossing at night–12 hours of the day,” Bakos said. Bulgaria did the same in 2016.

Thanks to positive feedback and results, aircraft operators have been able to plan their flights freely across the airspace of Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania 24/7 since Nov. 7 last year, unencumbered by geographical boundaries. Slovakia is still limiting itself to night hours.

Conventional ATS routes are created in a working group maintained by Eurocontrol, the organization in charge of ATM in Europe and extending to Turkey. “When we were using ATS routes, it was impossible to fly from Austria to Croatia via Hungary; from the day after we dropped that system, Austrian Airlines flew such direct routes instead of circumnavigating the country,” Bakos said.

Carriers flying in the SEE FRA can choose direct trajectories from the ground up to flight level 660 (approximately 66,000 ft., far above commercial flight altitude). Giving direct routing is already the practice of many controllers in Europe for the upper airspace, says Bakos. But structurally eliminating ATS routes takes ATM into another dimension.

“You have to have a very good medium-term conflict detection and warning system,” Bakos emphasized. In a conventional system, a controller knows which routes are busiest and is familiar with conflict locations. In FRA conflicts are not more numerous, but they are spread all over the airspace.

Thierry Dubois

Thierry Dubois has specialized in aerospace journalism since 1997. An engineer in fluid dynamics from Toulouse-based Enseeiht, he covers the French commercial aviation, defense and space industries. His expertise extends to all things technology in Europe. Thierry is also the editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s ShowNews.