We’ve all looked up when we’ve heard the telltale honking, and marvelled at the sight of those V-shaped flights of migrating geese, calling to each other to help maintain their formation.

The geese at the back are able to conserve their energy, benefiting from the lift created by those flying in front.

Ever since Icarus, mankind has been trying to emulate our feathered friends.  But this time there really is something the aviation industry can learn from these majestic birds.

We’ve been working with Airbus, and other partners including our French counterparts DSNA, EUROCONTROL and the airlines Frenchbee and SAS Scandinavian, to explore just how we can introduce the idea of conserving energy (fuel) by flying aircraft closer together in areas such as the North Atlantic where they fly straight for many hours.

The initial modelling suggests airlines could save between five and ten per cent of fuel per trip.  At a time when we’re doing all we can to “build back better” from the devastating impact the COVID pandemic has had on our industry globally, this is a really exciting possibility to explore further.

It’s quite counter intuitive – for the past 100 years air traffic control’s role has been to ensure aircraft remain separated, so flying two large passenger aircraft together poses a number of operational challenges to ensure we can maintain safety. To overcome some of these we’ve been applying our ATC brains to develop a safe and realistic concept of operations, showing how aircraft can be brought safely together without too much alteration to today’s procedures.

Much like today, both aircraft will fly to the same oceanic entry point and remain separated by 1,000 feet. Once in oceanic airspace and ready to join together, the ‘follower’ then moves into position using a flight assistance function where it can benefit from the lift created by the lead aircraft, while still maintaining a safe distance of around 1.5-2 NM.

We hope to be able to test this next year over the North Atlantic, and over the next few months, we will be working with our controllers to look at how we can safely bring two aircraft together, how they would be displayed on their screens and all whilst making sure it is as safe at it is today.


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Iona Maclean

Are you also in conversation with Vertical Aerospace about their offering? That’s zero carbon, so surely this would be optimum and ATC should start collaborating now to support this whilst craft go through design/test.



Dan Percy

Glad to be working with you Pilar, and your colleagues at NATS.



John Mansfield

Will TCAS need to be modified, or does it cope with this “following” mode?



Seán McErlean

That is a really fascinating concept.
Having just completed ETOPS & International Flight ops courses with Jeppesen that is going to turn things on it’s head.
I would be really interested in knowing more about this one.
Thanks for the LinkedIn posts,really great content you are putting out
Seán McErlean.
Flight ops officer


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