Understanding all sides of airspace capacity

Building new airports and adding runways to meet capacity demands in strong growth markets, such as Australia, enables more aircraft operations. Unfortunately, with that also comes more constraint points. Understanding the nature of this new demand on the system is the first step in developing aviation infrastructure to manage additional flights. Many systems focus on airfield constraints; far fewer consider the enroute constraints.

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Capacity demand management systems

In this first part of our two-part blog series on airspace capacity management, we focus on broadening our understanding of airspace capacity and constraints. (In the second, we’ll dive deeper into advanced departure management to maximise airspace capacity.) Each element in the aviation system has the potential to be a constraint point, from landside to runways and from enroute waypoints to the flight paths themselves.

Around busy airports, such as Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, demand for enroute arrival and departure waypoints is extremely high. For arrival waypoint demand management, there are sophisticated combinations of traffic management tools used. Arrivals are metered from their departure ports by an air traffic flow management system (ATFM), then metered inflight and processed by ATC from the enroute arrival waypoint into an orderly landing sequence using an arrival manager (AMAN). The ‘systems’ for departure waypoint demand management are not quite as sophisticated.

Departures are managed very differently

In the airspace surrounding the Brisbane and Sydney Extended Manoeuvring Areas, for example, the situation of multiple runways in very close proximity means departing aircraft demand can easily exceed the capacity of the enroute departure waypoints. This is often exacerbated by weather activity, such as the frequent thunderstorms in summer, that further reduce enroute waypoint and flight path capacity.

An overload of departure demand is typically managed through ad-hoc briefings between ATC units to set ground holding on the airport surface. In practice, this simply means the ATC towers are instructed to increase the spacing between successive departing aircraft operating on the same flight path. The spacing is then increased or decreased according to the intensity of the weather and the demand.

Building resilient departure management systems

One possible solution to this issue is to increase the number of flight paths in areas of high demand to help accommodate larger numbers of aircraft. This option works where there is enough space available. It becomes problematic in constrained locations such as the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne triangle, where demand is high and there is little unused airspace available.

In the busier aviation environments of Europe, the USA and parts of Asia, sophisticated departure techniques are already being employed to efficiently manage high demand. The next step for Australia and other high-growth markets is building resilient systems that can manage increased and fluctuating demand around identified constraint points, or wherever demand can exceed the capacity of the point to accommodate it.

In our next blog, we will be discussing the possibilities for advanced departure management systems.

Photo by Varshesh Joshi


About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to www.to70.com.


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