On 5 February 2015, HungaroControl became the first air navigation service provider (ANSP) in Europe to abolish its entire air traffic services (ATS) route network, enabling aircraft to use Hungarian airspace freely, without any restrictions.
The air traffic control concept of Hungarian Free Route Airspace (HUFRA) allows aircraft to fly the shortest possible direct flight path between any entry and exit points in the Hungarian airspace. According to the European Commission's regulation 716/2014, the implementation of free routes will be mandatory above 9,000 metres by 1 January 2022.
HungaroControl has fulfilled these requirements well ahead of the deadline. In Europe, the Free Route concept has been introduced in several countries – but because of the need to maintain the route system, airlines can only use it with time and space limitations. The significance of HungaroControl’s concept is that it ensures real freedom in Hungarian airspace: aircraft can now fly the optimum routes between entry and exit points without a fixed route network and without temporal and spatial limitations over the entire territory of Hungary.
Experts from the top 20 airlines that use Hungarian airspace gave their preliminary opinions about the concept during its development. Experiences and lessons learnt of the already operational Free Route Airspace concepts in several European countries (for example, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden) were also taken into consideration in the course of elaborating the concept details.
In order to deliver the project on time, there was outstanding cooperation between HungaroControl, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Ministry of National Development in charge of Hungarian transport matters, units of the Hungarian Defence Forces, while on an international level an excellent working relationship was formed with EUROCONTROL, the European Network Manager.
The implementation of HUFRA was facilitated by the continuous upgrading of the Magyar Automated and Integrated Air Traffic System (MATIAS), the ATM system used by HungaroControl, as a result of which Hungarian air traffic controllers now use one of the most modern ATM systems in Europe.
The start of HUFRA was preceded by several weeks of validation simulations in HungaroControl’s Centre of Research, Development and Simulation (CRDS). In particular, flight data processing and medium-term conflict detection were the tools which helped controllers to adopt the new procedures without safety risks.
After more than 11 months of operation, it can be stated that HUFRA played a significant role in the 13% traffic increase in Budapest ACC (driven by the events in Ukraine and Syria). Also, many airlines previously circumnavigating the Hungarian airspace due to the lack of appropriate routes now fly via Hungary, taking advantage of the benefits of HUFRA. At the same time, flight safety performance and ATC delays remained at previous levels.
In order to maximise benefits for airspace users, HungaroControl continues to work with other ANSPs and Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) to remove restrictions to free airspace use even before the EU deadline of January 2022.
Examples of these efforts include the Night Free Route Airspace Budapest/Bucharest (N-FRAB) between Hungary and Romania as of August 2015, the introduction of 47 plannable direct routes between Hungary and the UK as of December 2015, as well as technological preparations to create Free Route Airspace between the Black Forest and the Black Sea (i.e. Germany and Romania), to be completed in 2017.
- Contribution to increasing capacity of ATM systems
- Contribution to reducing ATM costs
- Contribution to reducing the impact of air transport on the environment
- Early implementation
- Potential to be replicated over the ATM network
- Innovative aspects
Contribution to increasing capacity of ATM systems
Without HUFRA, HungaroControl would not have been able to handle the significant traffic increase (+13% in en-route traffic) driven by the events in Ukraine and Syria. Contribution to reducing the impact of air transport on the environment: There were nearly 700,000 aircraft handled in the Hungarian airspace in 2014, therefore the length of overflight routes over Hungary could decrease by 1.5 million kilometres per year. As a result, airlines could save nearly $3 million of fuel each year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 16 million kilogrammes.
Innovative aspects, early implementation ("first mover")
HungaroControl was the first ANSP in Europe to abolish the entire fixed flight route network.
Potential to be replicated over the ATM network, promoting partnerships
Subsequent realised (N-FRAB, Long-range DCTs) as well as planned (FAB CE Free Route Airspace) initiatives in partnership with other ANSPs and FABs.
Contribution to reducing ATM costs
Increased predictability - airlines can plan shorter routes and accordingly carry less fuel. With more direct routes, free route operations are easier to plan; more cargo or passengers can be carried instead of unnecessary fuel. Thus flight capacity and utilisation can be also improved, contributing to cost reductions. At EUROCONTROL’s Free Route Airspace Workshop held on 29-30 June, 2015, airline representatives confirmed that Free Route Airspace solutions similar to HUFRA provide the most flexibility in their flight planning.