Free route airspace (FRA) is what some may call a 'no brainer'. Offering airspace users the ability to plan and fly the most efficient route from one point to another, without the need to follow pre-defined 'roads in the sky', has obvious benefits. Reduced flight time leads to reduced fuel burn and lower costs for airspace users (both fuel and operating costs). Less fuel burnt also means lower emissions to reduce the impact of a flight on the environment.
Given the benefits, FRA is one of the key ATM functionalities being deployed by SESAR, the Single European Sky ATM Research Programme. It is included in the Pilot Common Project for SESAR deployment, with member states having until the end of 2021 to implement FRA in their airspace.
However, implementation at just the national level is somewhat of a missed opportunity. If we want to make greater strides towards the true spirit and ambition of the Single European Sky, then we need to implement FRA across national boundaries.
It is this higher ambition that was recognised by the Commission when announcing the recent winners of the SES awards at World ATM Congress.
The Borealis Alliance is currently implementing FRA across the airspace of nine European countries, consisting of three Functional Airspace Blocks and one neighbouring country (Iceland). The benefits of the project have been recognised by the award of public funding, through the Connecting Europe Facility, to support the first phase of the implementation.
Cross-border initiatives are difficult to implement, with numerous operational, technical and political issues to overcome. The work of Borealis has shown that a partnership across the industry can collaborate effectively to implement concepts for the wider benefit of the industry.
Of course, it's not always 'plain sailing'! There are still hurdles to overcome to fulfil the full potential of FRA, particularly at a network level, but implementing FRA is a positive step towards achieving the Single European Sky and Borealis is proving that it is possible.