The busiest airspace in Europe is set to benefit from the introduction of Free Route Airspace
European Union (EU) Regulation 716/2014 requires European states to implement Free Route Airspace (FRA) at and above Flight Level 310 (FL310) from 1 January 2022. FRA enables airspace users to plan a route between a defined entry point and a defined exit point, subject to air traffic control, rather than adhere to the current fixed route network. Eurocontrol estimates it could reduce flight distances by 7.5 million n miles annually, helping to meet the demands of future airspace users such as civil and military unmanned aerial systems (UASs), airships, and spaceplanes.
Extensive free routing is already available to airspace users, but it is predominantly confined to relatively uncongested airspace. For example, Northern European FRA supports seamless flights across Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Norway, and Sweden above FL285. In southeast Europe, cross-border FRA has been in place over Slovenia and Austria since 2016, when HungaroControl also abolished its route network altogether in favour of unrestricted free routes, saving up to 1.5 million km annually.
FRA for core Europe
Now the focus is turning to busy core airspace in western and central Europe, where complex route structures, closely located hub airports, and shared civil-military airspace all present a challenge.
Ensuring the ground infrastructure can support FRA is crucial to its delivery. Air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are investing in advanced flight data processing systems, which enable trajectory-based flight and support the navigation capability on modern aircraft. At the Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) in the Netherlands, and the Karlsruhe Upper Area Control Centre in Germany, early versions of interoperability
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