Charlotte Currie

Project: Wind Optimal Flight Trajectories to Minimise Fuel Consumption within a 3 Dimensional Flight Network

Currently, there is a large emphasis on fuel saving in the Aerospace industry in order to reduce its environmental impact, particularly considering the continual growth of air traffic each year. My project aimed to address this through the use of reformed Air Traffic Management, specifically with the implementation of wind optimised flight trajectories. The utilisation of flight routing of this kind is in operation place over the oceans where flight paths are updated twice daily to take advantage of favourable winds. The aim of this project was to assess the benefits of wind optimal flight routing through a flight network consisting of fixed waypoints. To reach their destination, an aircraft must pass over such waypoints, called navaids, for tracking purposes. A flight network of this kind is analogous to that currently in place over land. This differs to airspace over oceans where aircraft are able to fly in relatively ‘free space’.

To conduct the investigations, I developed a simulation tool coded within MATLAB to calculate the flight time for a minimum time route through a specified flight network. This incorporated wind velocity along all flight paths between waypoints into the calculation of aircraft velocity. For comparison, the time taken to fly the shortest distance route was similarly calculated as this is how flight paths are currently established. The basis of the simulation code was vector calculus and Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm.

Preliminary investigations, conducted on a 2 dimensional scale, assumed aircraft maintained a constant altitude throughout the duration of the flight. These initial investigations, for proof of concept, employed a fictional wind field and flight network, corresponding to the scale of Europe, and revealed fuel savings of approximately 10%. This preliminary conclusion resulted in the decision to extend the simulation model into 3 dimensions allowing the aircraft to climb or descend to find favourable winds at alternative flight levels. Fictional wind data was also replaced with real wind velocity data sourced for a range of instances over Europe. These extensive studies also investigated the effects of the flight network setup and model parameters were modified in a series of experiments. These included wind conditions, density of waypoints and the effects of varying fuel burn in climb and descent between different altitudes. In all cases fuel savings greater than 1% were found and this extended up to a potential saving of 10.3% in some cases. This suggests that the benefits of wind optimal flight trajectories are significant, particularly when considering the relative low effort and cost for airlines to implement.


Throughout school I always had a keen interest in aviation this coupled with my enjoyment of maths and physics made Aerospace Engineering ideally suited to me.

The course at Bristol ensures a sound knowledge in the fundamental subjects in early years with the flexibility to tailor to your interests in later years. The aspect of the course I have most enjoyed is my research project which was both challenging yet rewarding. I have been able to explore an area of real interest to me as well as developing my coding skills and ability to research. This project has led me to secure a job with NATS (National Air Traffic Services) as an analyst in their operations department where I will be working on projects involving the development of collision avoidance systems for aircraft.

Alongside engineering I have made the most of other aspects University life has to offer. This includes learning a new sport, korfball, as well as playing saxophone as part of the University Jazz Orchestra. Bristol really is a vibrant and exciting city, and I have loved spending the past four years living here.

Charlotte Currie, Department of Aerospace Engineering
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