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.


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.



The future competitiveness of the European air transport sector and its environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand, as clearly stated by the EU’s Aviation Strategy.

As regards emissions from aviation, the EU has put in place powerful regulatory tools such as the Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) addressing greenhouse gas emissions, including from aviation.

In line with the Energy Union agenda, an important contribution to the reduction of aviation's environmental impacts will come from current research and development actions for innovative “green” technologies. The strategy singles out SESAR and its potential to reduce CO2 emissions.

SESAR contributes to High-Level goals for the Single European Sky (SES) to be met by 2020 and beyond. One of the SES’s four main targets is to: “enable a 10% reduction in the effects flights have on the environment”.

Read more on the official website of the European Commission



The SESAR fuel efficiency performance ambition primarily addresses the ATM-related fuel consumption within a gate-to-gate scope. It therefore covers efficiency on the airport surface, as well as both horizontal and vertical flight profile efficiency throughout the flight trajectory. The aim is to reduce the impact on fuel efficiency performance while maintaining the ability to accommodate traffic increases in a safe manner.

The SESAR performance ambition is to enable an average reduction of approximately 250-500 kg of fuel per flight (i.e. approximately 5-10 % of 4 800 kg of average consumption for a representative flight). This ambition addresses airport surface operations, TMA climb and descent operations and en-route vertical flight efficiency. It is broader than is currently targeted by the SES Performance Scheme, which focuses on the horizontal en-route flight extension only and aims to achieve 2.6 % in flight extension by 2019 compared to the 2012 baseline of 3.2 % (26).

The SESAR ambition of enabling approximately 250-500 kg fuel burn reduction is, on average, most likely to be enabled across operating environments as follows:

Airport surface operations: 38-75 kg fuel burn reduction per flight due to more efficient taxi operations, representing 30 % reduction in average taxi fuel burn per flight.

TMA climb/descent operations: 163 - 325 kg fuel burn reduction per flight due to the reduction in the use of stacks and/or holding patterns in the descent phase and more efficient climb and descent profiles, representing a 10 % reduction in average climb/descent fuel burn per flight. It should be noted that a significant portion of this improvement relates to TMAs serving the busiest and more congested airports in Europe.

En-route cruise operations: 50-100 kg fuel burn reduction per flight due to more direct cruise trajectories and more efficient vertical profiles, representing a 2.5 % reduction in average en-route cruise fuel burn per flight.