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Think 19 - A16 - Green Planes - David Zammit Mangion

Prof. Ing. David Zammit Mangion has been spearheading research in aviation at the
University of Malta for two decades. With a focus on improving fuel burn, reducing emissions,
and better flight management systems for pilots, the one overarching aim is safer air travel.
optimisation tool. This software
should be taken into consideration?
stood at €127 billion. It was
was then used by partners to
One extreme would result in a
responsible for nearly a fifth
identify a more environmentally
highly complex and computationally
of the airline industry’s total
friendly manner of flying.
demanding task that may take several
operating costs of €740
Commercial planes fly from one
days to solve. The other would provide
billion. And that was a good year.
airport to another through set paths,
a quick result which would likely be
Only three years earlier, the price of
avoiding military airspace or no-fly
way off the mark. The answer lies in
crude oil stood at over $100 a barrel,
zones. These routes may not be the
finding what one can get away with.
meaning the fuel bill was nearly
fastest or shortest way of getting from
double that of 2016, while other costs
point A to B, and optimising them is no
ground-based studies on how
remained stable. With these sobering
numbers, it comes as no surprise that
aircraft manufacturers and airlines are
seeking to improve fuel efficiency.
Commercial aircraft burn fossil fuels,
generating man-made greenhouse
gases. While the aviation industry
contributes only a modest 2% to the
global figure, it is one of the most
rapidly growing contributors. As a
result, industry leaders worldwide have
been driving legislation, technology,
and research to reduce the impact of
air travel on the environment. In 2006
the European Commission and the
major European aviation manufacturers
In Clean Sky, our task focused on
theoretical studies, more specifically
Our work saw
us developing
and proposing
new routes in
and out of Malta
Airport to allow
for lower noise
best to fly the airplane in complex
operational conditions such as flying
from Heathrow to Malta with typical
traffic, and weather that represents
real conditions. This meant we were
hard on the complex side of the scale.
The partners developed many detailed
software models of the airplane, its
engines, the operational environment,
and airline business models together.
We also had to develop state-of-the-art
computational techniques for fast and
accurate optimisation and a software
framework that allows the user to
integrate the different components
in order to to run the software tool
created a €1.6 billion Joint Technology
Initiative called Clean Sky to address
trivial matter. Complications include
to carry out theoretical studies. At
the challenge. The resulting activities
adhering to the desired duration of
UoM, we were primarily involved
take place throughout the lifecycle
flight, bad weather, wind variations,
with the design and development
of an aircraft, from reducing waste
and the presence of other traffic in
of the integration framework and
at the manufacturing stage, to
the vicinity. The scope of optimisation
software quality management. Using
operating the aircraft in a greener
is to find the best way around these
the tool, we then participated in the
manner, to recycling of materials.
complications with minimal impact on
optimisation studies on flights to
The University of Malta (UoM) was
operational cost and the environment.
reduce noise, emissions, and fuel burn.
one of the project partners involved
From a technical perspective, the
from the very beginning, and it
question of optimisation is always the
the UoM, its students, and staff an
worked on the development of an
same: how many of the known factors
excellent opportunity in terms
The Clean Sky experience afforded
ast year the global fuel bill
of funded, collaborative industrial
then full time academic, Kenneth
computer rarely has the latest
research. Through the project, the
Chircop’s doctoral research studies.
technology, primarily due to safety
University strengthened its established
In his research, Kenneth addressed
and industrial requirements. In fact,
ties with European partners and built
the challenge of fast optimisation
computers on board an aircraft would
new ones. It offered opportunities
to allow trajectories to be altered
be considered obsolete by most. These
for academics and research officers
optimally during flight. Planes are
hardware limitations ‘force’ software
to work in a European collaborative
highly computerised, with a Flight
programs to be relatively simple
environment, which is always exciting
Management System (FMS), managing
from a computational perspective,
and extends our horizons. Clean Sky
the entire flight from take-off to
and this poses a challenge when
has also led to further initiatives,
landing. This system calculates
attempting to perform multi-parameter
diverting the experience we gained
runway distances, climb and descent
trajectory optimisation within FMSs.
in the project to address challenges
profiles, fuel burn, time of flight, and
that are related to the same theme.
so forth. However, its computational
that allows just this—with the
capacity to perform optimisation
calculation of an optimal trajectory in
of trajectories is limited. A plane’s
a complex operational environment
It was Clean Sky that led to Malta
Air Traffic Services (MATS) CEO,
Kenneth developed a new technique
being executed in only a matter of
led to Kenneth receiving the RTCA’s
used by MATS in their work to
a few minutes. Some ‘thinking out
prestigious William E. Jackson Award.
introduce new and sophisticated
However, the value of trajectory
approach and departure procedures.
Under CLEAN FLIGHT, we also
by studying closely the behaviour
optimisation is not restricted to the
of aircraft in complex operational
flight deck. Nor is it complete without
developed a tool to allow air traffic
conditions as if they were free to fly
further consideration of other aircraft
controllers to identify optimal
optimally and unhindered. We then
in the vicinity. Air traffic controllers
trajectories that aircraft can fly along
put in constraints and found that
have a more holistic view of air traffic
the published routes. This tool, again
aircraft tended to adopt strategies
needs, being responsible for separation
built on technology we developed,
for particular conditions to achieve
between aircraft and for routing aircraft
gives the air traffic controller a clear
the most efficient flight path. We
along their way. In this context, it is
picture of how exactly an aircraft
went on to characterise these
important to first establish efficient
will be expected to fly optimally and,
strategies carefully and applied
routing schemes. Our work, funded by
crucially, provides a look into the future
that knowledge to identify how the
the MCST National R&I Programme
to provide confidence that the aircraft
aircraft should fly in any new, given
under the CLEAN FLIGHT project and
will indeed remain clear of all other
environment. This breakthrough
led by Kenneth, saw us developing
traffic as planned. This is a key function
approach allowed us to achieve our
and proposing new routes in and
of value to air traffic controllers as it
target of generating a result that is
out of Malta International Airport
will allow them to confidently issue
just as accurate as the most complex
to allow for lower noise disturbance
aircraft with clearance instructions in
of optimisations within a fraction of
to the local population as well as
excess of thirty minutes in advance,
the time it would normally take and,
less fuel burn and lower emissions.
a practice that is currently difficult
therefore, applicable to FMSs. It also
These proposals have already been
to carry out whenever traffic is
of the box’ was required. He started
Meet the Team: Dr Ing. Kenneth Chircop, Dr Ing. Brian Zammit, Dr Robert Camilleri, Prof. Ing. David Zammit-Mangion, Dr Jason Gauci, Andrew
Spiteri, Kevin Theuma, Matthew Xuereb, Captain Alan Muscat. Photography by Jean Claude Vancell.
expected to converge simultaneously
even more complex operational
there. Aircraft are very efficient
towards a waypoint or airport.
situations. The in-trial operations are
aerodynamically and, perhaps
exciting from a research perspective,
contrary to common belief, struggle to
very promising from an industrial
as we are preparing to put the
descend to earth steeply, even under
perspective and led us to a second
technology into industrial use with real
no power. Since it is more efficient for
project, in which we are preparing to
aircraft, pilots, and air traffic controllers
jet aircraft to fly at high altitude, they
put the technology of CLEAN FLIGHT
in a real air traffic control environment.
are typically flown at the preferred
The results of CLEAN FLIGHT were
into in-trial operation and to extend
the optimisation function to consider
But our efforts in flight
management do not stop
cruise altitude, ideally starting
descent at the latest moment to just
Aircraft are
very efficient
and struggle to
descend to earth
steeply, even
under no power.
let the aircraft glide down to the
to recover from a potentially unsafe
the University has, through the
airfield. The descent profile, however,
condition with excessive energy.
Knowledge Transfer Office, taken the
As part of his Ph.D. studies,
necessary steps to protect and exploit
including weather, terrain, traffic,
colleague academic Brian Zammit
the intellectual property generated
and winds, and it is quite possible for
developed a tool that helps pilots
through our activities. We have
several constraints to conspire and
recover from an inadvertent deviation
been granted a patent in the United
result in the aircraft approaching the
from the desired path. It identifies in
States for the invention of the ATC
airfield too high. This poses a safety
three dimensions a new path that the
tool, and our other inventions have
threat, as a continued approach may,
aircraft will need to follow to arrive at
applications pending grant. Our next
in severe cases, result in an unsafe
the final approach point, at the correct
ambition is to continue transferring
landing attempt. Consequently, what
height and speed, and at the right
these and other technologies for use
is called ‘energy management’ is today
time. This, again, involves trajectory
in the industry to further strengthen
considered important in the descent
optimisation and, given the variables
the contribution the University
towards an airfield. So now the focus
and uncertainties of the atmosphere, is
already provides to society, and to
is generally on the development of
technologically challenging to achieve
enjoy the work in the process.
tools that can provide confidence,
with the desired accuracy. Our work
from as early as top of descent, that
has resulted in the development of a
CLEAN FLIGHT was funded by the
the energy state of an aircraft on
software prototype that is still on-going
MCST National R&I Programme
landing will be as desired. We added
to allow us to improve the combination
(MCST project R&I 2001-021).
value to this by working on solving
of accuracy and fast execution speed.
CLEAN FLIGHT II was funded by
the issue of accurately identifying
what needs to be done for the pilot
As our contributions to technology
have a potential value to industry,
the MCST National R&I Programme
(MCST project R&I 2013-025).
depends on several constraints,
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