Point Merge: descending at the correct pace

With Point Merge, the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre (EEC) has delivered a powerful tool for sequencing aircraft approaches at airports. Its purpose is to increase the throughput of arriving flights and reinforce safety, and at the same time reduce noise pollution.

Currently, controllers orchestrate aircraft approaches at airports, sequencing arriving flights. They do this by transmitting radio instructions to pilots on heading, speed and altitude so that their aircraft can intercept and join the runway axis while keeping minimum separation.

While this method optimises the throughput of approaching aircraft, it does have its drawbacks: a high workload for the controllers, a large number of voice communications between controllers and pilots, and a dispersion of aircraft at low altitudes.

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Keeping aircraft on arcs

It is in this context that the EEC has developed Point Merge, a method designed to maximise the sequencing of arriving flights under heavy traffic conditions and without assigning headings to pilots.

“The idea is to keep aircraft delayed on predefined trajectories, in an arc, all equidistant from the same point of convergence (‘Point Merge’). At the appropriate time, pilots shall fly straight to this point and follow a final trajectory to the runway axis” explains Karim Zeghal, Engineer at the EEC. Point Merge optimises flight throughput by facilitating the controller’s job, keeping aircraft at higher altitudes and ensuring that an approach trajectory is precisely followed. It also reduces the noise pollution associated with arrivals.

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Serendipity or chance

“This idea came about fortuitously at the Centre in the 2000s, at the time of more futuristic research into automatic spacing of aircraft on approach”, he says. “We brought together controllers, pilots, engineers and human factors experts when real-time simulations were being carried out in order to refine the concept”.

Today, Point Merge is recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). “The feedback is positive, and it has already been adopted by many airports throughout the world (Oslo, Dublin, London, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, etc.).”  The work on arrivals management isn’t over yet.