World’s first 4D flight lands in Stockholm

10 Feb 2012

World's first 4D flight: the Airbus A320 test aircraft, which took off from Toulouse, went on to Copenhagen and landed in Stockholm this morning. Image copyright (c) Airbus

The world’s first-ever 4D flight has taken place this morning. The Airbus A320 test aircraft took off from Toulouse and headed to Copenhagen before swooping in over Stockholm, landing at 11am (EST). The group behind the flight (SESAR) says the test flight is the first step towards achieving more predictable flights in European airspace.

Today’s initial 4D (I-4D) trajectory flight was the result of two years’ work by SESAR, a group involving Airbus, Eurocontrol, Honeywell, Indra, NORACON and Thales. SESAR said the I-4D flight is the first step towards more predictable flights.

SESAR was founded by the European Commission and by Eurocontrol. It is aiming to pioneer technological answers to the major challenges of European air traffic growth. Fifteen companies are members of the SJU: AENA, Airbus, Alenia Aeronautica, the DFS, the DSNA, ENAV, Frequentis, Honeywell, Indra, NATMIG, NATS (En Route), NORACON, SEAC, SELEX Sistemi Integrati and Thales.

So what’s a 4D flight? It’s a four-dimensional trajectory concept, or 4D, meaning a three-dimensional trajectory plus time. SESAR said that during this morning’s Airbus A320 flight, the trajectory information containing current and predicted positions were exchanged with the relevant air navigation service providers and airports.

It said after the landing that the test flight has successfully validated the capability of the aircraft system to comply with time constraints that were negotiated with ground ATC system through air ground datalink communication.

“With this first I-4D trial flight under operational conditions, the SESAR members have proven that by working together in the framework of the SESAR programme real changes in the ATM domain are being brought about. Not only the aviation industry will benefit from optimised flights but society as a whole,” said Patrick Ky, executive director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

Today’s 4D flight path over Europe’s skies

The flight trajectory started off from Toulouse, with the test aircraft flying through the Eurocontrol Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) airspace where the airborne and ground systems agreed on a first time constraint at a merging point close to Copenhagen Airport.

The flight then continued into Danish airspace to demonstrate an optimised descent to Copenhagen. After reaching the first merging point, the aircraft climbed to a cruise level from which it negotiated a second time constraint at a merging point close to Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The flight then descended into Swedish airspace to the second merging point and landed at Arlanda.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic