New air traffic control system may cut taxi times

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 May, 2010, 12:00am

A HK$1.6 billion revamp of Chek Lap Kok's air traffic control system could shave 15 per cent off aircraft taxi times - the time it takes to travel from the gate to the runway - according to an air traffic control expert.

A 15 per cent reduction in taxi time would mean less waiting time for passengers and lower fuel costs, said Antonio Lo Brutto, vice-president of air traffic management business development at Telephonics Corp.

The Civil Aviation Department is evaluating bids from several air traffic control integration firms to upgrade the system to support automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology, which could provide a more accurate position for aircraft.

Telephonics is one of the companies currently bidding for a service contract to upgrade the system.

'Aircraft burn more fuel on the ground than they do flying in the air,' Lo Brutto said.

'The reduction in taxi time will help airlines to save more jet fuel.'

The Federal Aviation Administration has done a series of flight tests to demonstrate how the upgraded system - the so-called next generation air transportation system - could help to reduce taxi times, fuel and carbon emissions.

Lo Brutto said the new system could save about 4.54 tonnes of jet fuel a day at an airport, a figure derived from data analysing more than 6,000 aircraft at 10 airports.

Each year this would translate to 1,655 tonnes of jet fuel, resulting in a reduction of US$1.17 million in the fuel bill for the airlines using the Hong Kong International Airport.

It would also mean a reduction of 5,230 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year - equivalent to the amount absorbed by more than 124,000 tree saplings over 10 years of growth.

Under the new system, different stakeholders at the airport - including the airlines, airport and the air traffic control tower - would have to share information in a more collaborative way. Pilots would have to report a target time for departure to the air traffic control tower well before aircraft doors are closed to give the controllers more leeway to arrange better sequencing at the ramp.

The new system is also expected to enhance route capacity by 40 per cent, easing traffic congestion on some routes. Since the ADS-B technology deploys a global positioning system to track the position of an aircraft, it would give pilots and navigators a better sense of its position and increase traffic density, compared with the present radar-based system, a department official said.

The first to benefit from greater route efficiency will be Southeast Asian destinations, the official said. Demand for air traffic between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia is so great that it would reach maximum capacity in four to five years without an upgrade, he said.

Air routes are well defined, much like highways for vehicles.

The minimum horizontal separation - a compulsory safety buffer to avoid collisions - between aircraft is 50 nautical miles under radar-based surveillance systems. Once the global positioning system is adopted, the separation could be reduced to 30 nautical miles, or by about 40 per cent.

By 2013, all aircraft using the two parallel air routes to and from Southeast Asia should support the ADS-B system, otherwise they will be forced to fly at altitudes which are not fuel-effective - either below 29,000 feet or above 41,000 feet, the official said.

Around 75 per cent of global commercial aircraft are already equipped with global positioning systems and support ADS-B at present.

At the world's busiest air fields - such as London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shenzhen - air traffic congestion during the peak hours resembles the traffic at the Hung Hom Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

Better route

Passenger waiting time and fuel costs may be cut under new system

The time it takes for aircraft to travel from the gate to the runway could be reduced by: 15%