'Perfect flight' optimised all the way

Britain's aviation industry has achieved an important environmental milestone with the completion of the UK's first "perfect flight".

The flight on Saturday 10 July was a collaboration between airline, airport operator and air traffic controller. Every factor of the normal Saturday evening service from Heathrow to Edinburgh – from pushback from the stand and taxiing to an optimised flight profile and continuous descent approach – was calibrated to achieve minimal emissions and delay.

Data from the 19.30 British Airways BA1462 flight will now be gathered and analysed, together with air traffic control and airport information, to understand the benefits. Initially, it is believed up to a quarter tonne of fuel could be saved, equating to nearly one tonne of CO2.

NATS and BA worked with BAA at Heathrow and Edinburgh to achieve this landmark flight, which was proposed by NATS' Andy Sampson and Kel Kirkland. Kirkland said: "Unlocking each individual link in the chain on a single flight is not easy. Everyone has had a part to play.

"It will be some time before we can expect to see the "perfect flight" replicated day in, day out but we have demonstrated it is possible and we can work towards it in the long term."

BA Strategy and Environment Manager Dean Plumb said: "This highlights what can be achieved if every individual part of a flight is optimised. The data obtained should show that what seemed to be a normal, scheduled flight actually achieved something extraordinary."

BAA Heathrow Airside Operations Director Colin Wood said: "This flight is a great example of what can be achieved when the aviation industry works together.

"The benefits should include reduced taxi time, lower carbon emissions, improved air and noise quality and lower airline fuel costs. We are always looking for ways to improve the environmental efficiency of ground operations at our airports and trials such as this are fundamental in delivering new procedures and technologies."

The Airbus A321 was able to fly without the everyday but necessary constraints imposed on air traffic because it was a one-off. It was also able to fly at its most fuel-efficient altitude for longer than usual.

The information from the flight will be shared with the UK industry coalition Sustainable Aviation to support its aim of reducing aircraft emissions to 2000 levels by 2050.

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