Air traffic management (ATM) affects when, how far, how high, how fast and how efficiently aircraft fly. In turn, this influences how much fuel aircraft burn, the level of greenhouse and other gases emitted from their engines, and how much noise they emit. While the environmental performance of aviation has improved dramatically since the 1960s. However, with European traffic expected to increase from 9.5 million flights in 2012 to nearly 14.4 million in 2035, the challenge is meeting this expected growth in demand while minimising its environmental impact.


SESAR contributes to the targets of the Single European Sky (SES)1 by designing, defining, developing, validating and deploying innovative technological and operational solutions for managing air traffic in a more efficient manner. SESAR’s contribution to these high-level goals are continuously reviewed by SESAR and kept up to date in the European ATM Master Plan. In the area of environment, SESAR aims to contribute to the SES 10% CO2 reduction target by reducing fuel burn by between 250 and 500 kg per flight by 2035 – this corresponds to between 0.8 to 1.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions per flight.

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Aircraft operations at airports impact local air quality through pollutants emitted during landing and taking off, taxiing, fuel storage, engine testing and the use of auxiliary power units. The key gases produced are oxides of nitrogen (NOX – includes nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur oxides (SOX), unburnt hydrocarbons (HC) and smoke as well as different sizes of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). The concern about these emissions surrounds their potential negative impact on human health. When validating SESAR Solutions, an impact assessment on LAQ emissions is made through a model to make sure that the solution does not degrade the existing situation and helps the local stakeholders maintaining the quality of the air around airports.


While airport noise is essentially a local concern, it can represent an obstacle to the implementation of ATM improvements that offer other important airport performance gains, such as fuel efficiency. Noise abatement is an important part of SESAR’s environmental work and, while not subject to quantitative targets, it is taken into consideration when developing solutions. SESAR Solutions aim to improve the management of noise and its impact through precision landing using satellite navigation, optimised flight paths, including optimised climb and descent operations, thus allowing ATM to comply with local environmental rules. For instance, recent SESAR validation exercises have shown that SESAR optimised descent operations can enable aircraft to reduce its noise impact when approaching airport runways.