Image: Airbus

Airbus continues its advances in sustainability with its HERON project for fuel-efficient flight operations saying it is a ‘major step’ towards the decarbonisation of commercial aviation.

HERON is the acronym for “Highly Efficient gReen OperatioNs,” and the project’s goal is to demonstrate how aviation’s environmental footprint can be further reduced with innovative procedures that range from more efficient aircraft operations to optimised management of air traffic during flights. The programme is part of the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) Programme Joint Undertaking, which coordinates and concentrates all European Union research and development activities in air traffic management.

Joining Airbus in the three-year HERON programme are 25 partners across 10 countries, representing the full aviation ecosystem including airlines, airports, air traffic control agencies and service providers.

HERON is an expanded follow-on to the two-year SESAR programme known as ALBATROSS, which performed a series of gate-to-gate live trials across Europe for fuel-efficient flights. ALBATROSS brought together innovations such as optimised flight operations from climb-out to the descent for landing, followed by hybrid assistance for aircraft movements on the ground.

The goal for HERON is to pursue the deployment of already-mature solutions as steps that contribute toward achieving the air transport industry’s objective of ‘net-zero carbon emissions by 2050’, as set by IATA, ATAG and ICAO.

On-ground operations

One focus of HERON is the management of fuel-efficient on-ground aircraft operations. This will include aircraft taxiing without use of engines for momentum and the optimisation of airplane movements at airports by avoiding unnecessary waiting times on taxiways and at parking stands. It will include the Green Apron Management demonstration, which uses sensors and artificial intelligence for more predictable and efficient aircraft handling during airport stopovers.

For airborne operations, one of the HERON work packages will improve air traffic control management of in-flight trajectories through enhanced network coordination. Another work package will see the implementation of smoother, more continuous descent profiles as aircraft near their destinations, which will involve flights into airports in Brussels, Istanbul, Warsaw, Calvi and Saint-Nazaire.

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