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Europe’s SESAR Project Demonstrates Low-Visibility Airport Access Via New Landing Approaches

Dec. 28, 2016

Business aircraft operators would be able to land at more airports in most weather conditions using a combination of satellite-based navigation, synthetic vision and enhanced vision technologies, according to the results of a two-year demonstration project in Europe. The “Augmented Approaches to Land” (AAL) project was co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking, Europe’s 10-year-old air traffic modernization program, and included 15 aviation sector partners led by NetJets Europe.

In 2015 and 2016, more than 360 trial flights were conducted into large airports such as Frankfurt, Germany, and Zurich, Switzerland, and small/medium-size airports such as Ostrava, Czech Republic, and Bordeaux, France. Aircraft types flown included Airbus A320, A380, Boeing 747-800, Dassault Falcon 900 and Falcon 7X. Before performing trial flights, procedures were tested in full-flight simulators.

“The idea is to connect curved satellite-based navigation to a landing system that is able to guide you all the way down in all weather conditions,” said Jean-Philippe Ramu, AAL project leader and a NetJets Europe Gulfstream V/550 pilot. “The objective is to give maximum flexibility to the procedure designers, enabling procedures that are shorter and better adapted if there is a noise issue around an airport, having those procedures avoiding populated areas.”

The data gathered will help to redesign procedures around 25 major airports as mandated in Europe for 2024. For smaller airports, the AAL project confirmed that curved satellite-based navigation can be connected to the satellite-based augmentation system landing system (or localizer performance with vertical guidance), enabling precision landing performance with decision heights as low as 200 feet. The project also demonstrated further benefits from on-board synthetic and enhanced vision capabilities. New certified procedures using those on-board systems could be available for use by 2020.

Ramu said the synthetic vision creates improved situational awareness for the pilot, “to know what to expect once you transition from head down to head up,” lowering the decision height by 50 feet. The enhanced vision then provides infrared imagery, reducing the required runway visual range down to 300 meters, enabling continuation down to 50 feet above threshold, “where you need to see the real runway to ensure visibility for landing and rollout,” he added.

The project demonstrated that with minimum adaptation and relatively low cost, small and regional airports can accommodate aircraft equipped with synthetic and enhanced vision capabilities to significantly improve accessibility in low-visibility conditions. Business aircraft operators would be able to use smaller airports in all weather conditions, relieving the pressure on major airports.

The AAL consortium included NetJets Europe as coordinator, Honeywell and Dassault Aviation each leading technical work packages, and was in partnership with Airbus, Air Navigation Services of the Czech Republic, DFS, DLR, DSNA, Elbit Systems, the European Business Aviation Association, Fraport, Lufthansa, Skyguide, Swiss, and Zurich Airport.

View technical results of the AAL project.