The route to more sustainable flight

Cathie Wells, Prof Paul Williams, Dr Dante Kalise, Prof Nancy Nichols, Ian Poll (Industrial partner)

Current flight routes across the North Atlantic depend largely on the daily tracks provided by NATS (National Air Traffic Services).  These are designed to provide ample space between aircraft for safety, whilst ensuring a reasonably direct route.  The minimal time routing research behind these was pioneered by Ernst Zermelo in the 1930s.  His method focused on minimising journey time through a wind field, whilst keeping air speed constant.  In this dissertation his approach will be explained using Optimal Control Theory.  After this, new formulae will be applied to calculate fuel burn at different air speeds. The basic derivation of fuel burn functions, dependent only on plane type, altitude and air speed will be undertaken, based on Ian Poll’s new papers. Results obtained by combining time minimisation with the fuel burn equations, will be tested in transatlantic flight track simulations, by routing aircraft through realistic wind fields generated by a global atmospheric numerical model. Motivation for such work is clear, with airlines and airport operators keen to benefit from minimising the fuel burn, not only to save money on kerosene, but also to minimise carbon dioxide emissions.  Using data about the local wind field, flights can take advantage of the weather across the North Atlantic, dominated as it is by the increasingly strong jet stream at cruising altitude.  This will ideally allow punctual arrivals, but with minimal fuel use and pollution.
In order to prove that the new trajectories are advantageous, fuel burn along current routes will be considered using data from for British Airways flights BA174 and BA177 from 1st December 2018 to 28th February 2019.  In this way simulated methods can be compared with actual paths flown, during the strongest season for the jet stream.
The overriding challenge for this millennium is to find approaches that will lead to a net benefit for both the economy and the environment.  My dissertation hopes to achieve just this.