On the AIRAC date 25 March 2021, EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) successfully implemented a major overhaul of its airspace sector layout, which now better meets the European concept of free route airspace. The new airspace sector organisation is designed to better support higher traffic levels as soon as commercial schedules resume.
Benefits include a reduction in flight planning restrictions and the creation of several shorter flight-plannable route options. Simulations predict that, on the basis of pre-pandemic traffic, the change will bring a weekly CO2 saving potential of 6,700 kg and offer flight-plannable gains of 280 NM. These savings are either directly achievable through explicit changes in the European Route Availability Document (RAD) or readily available thanks to improved alignment between sector boundaries and specific FRA trajectories. In order to help airspace users identify their individual saving potential, the MUAC AO AIRAC Brief highlights the explicit and also the implicit changes to flight plan routings within the improved MUAC sectorisation.
The new sectorisation, with the alignment of flows and sector boundaries, also provides benefits for MUAC operations in terms of a reduction in airspace complexity and therefore enhanced capacity performance. Taking pre-pandemic traffic figures into account, simulations predict that the improved matching of flows and sectors can reduce delays by about 1%.
The traffic downturn and the increased availability of air traffic controller expertise during the pandemic have accelerated the implementation of this project, providing better foundations to support traffic recovery.
Over the last few years, MUAC has been developing and gradually implementing free route airspace (FRA) across its entire airspace. FRA offers airspace users more direct flight planning options, reducing fuel burn and emissions. In order to keep the efforts for the FRA project at reasonable levels prior to final deployment, the FRA design did not alter the existing sector organisation. Implementing FRA together with a new sectorisation would have required a reduction in capacity and increased air traffic controller workload, and would have represented too big a change for adjacent and subjacent air navigation providers and other partners.
After the implementation of H42 FRA in December 2019, MUAC’s sectorisation was revisited in order to identify improvements, which would boost efficiency and allow the full benefits to be drawn from FRA. This review considered two main aspects: changes to flight planning patterns as observed in the FRA environment, and the tactical directs used on a day-to-day basis by MUAC controllers. Both of these aspects were compared with legacy patterns based on the ATS route network, which formed the basis of the original design of the MUAC sectors.
Additional airspace studies are progressing with the involvement of neighbouring air navigation service providers in order to identify additional sector changes and further improvements to flight planning. MUAC’s sectorisation review will continue throughout 2021/2022 and deliver further improvements to airspace users and the network.