Institutional • 10 Apr 2024
Tracking the impacts of aviation and supporting decision-making

Tracking the impacts of aviation and supporting decision-making

Sofia Kalakou


Professor Iscte Business School

Researcher BRU-Iscte

The ReFmap project has been launched to optimise aircraft trajectories and minimise the impacts of emissions, noise and other disturbances to human and animal life. It is expected to produce useful tools for cities, airports, and airlines.

What are the ambitious results of the RefMap project?

We hope to create models that will simulate the environmental impacts of short-haul and long-haul aviation - from aeroplanes, air taxis and drones. We plan to create models using artificial intelligence technology, which will then be integrated into a tool or software that will combine the various impacts, enabling us to make the service available to all relevant decision-makers and stakeholders.
A existência desta ferramenta criará oportunidades de negócio para companhias aéreas e aeroportos, para repensarem como querem operar. Por exemplo, com base nos aspetos ambientais, onde queremos ter um novo aeroporto e como queremos permitir a utilização de drones nos sítios habitados? Uma ferramenta deste tipo vai criar muitas oportunidades de negócio.


To minimise emissions, we know that trains are less polluting than planes.

Some use in aviation, such as hydrogen, promise cleaner use. On the other hand, if aviation does not become greener, regulators will want to impose more requirements on stakeholders. At the European Commission level, the aim is to make the transport sector greener. We believe that decision-making will be more judicious with the efforts being made.

How did Iscte get involved in this project?

The university leading the RefMap project is the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and the researchers are primarily from the aerospace sector.
For some time now, a group has been trying to optimise aircraft trajectories to minimise the impact of emissions and noise and the subsequent disruption to human and animal life. However, as with all areas, it was realised that a one-dimensional approach has limits. The technical team needed partners who could provide input and insights into how this technical work could respond to the industries and decision-makers' needs. That is where we (Iscte) came into the consortium, with the management component, to ensure that the tools created will be helpful to the people who make decisions: the airlines, the airports, the cities and the transport technology companies. We will also work with new vehicles like air taxis, drones, and aeroplanes.
Access to drones has created the need to bring long-haul aviation expertise to the city dimension. We are in a transitional phase, and many regulators are already dealing with this issue at the European level. However, there is also pressure to have tools that allow these new technologies to be introduced into the city without creating problems on a day-to-day basis. We have gained experience in this integration in another project and will transfer this knowledge to RefMap.

Sofia Kalakou 2

How is the consortium in which BRU-Iscte participates formed?

There are eight universities and three companies, the latter from the Netherlands, England and Cyprus. One is 100 per cent involved in using drones, another is involved in using drones and traditional aircraft, and the third company is working on integrating new technologies into city operations.

Was there a history of collaboration between these partners?

There was parallel work in some universities, which evaluated different impacts on aviation: some were working on noise, others on emissions, and others on the use of trajectories, and we saw the opportunity to integrate all these analysis models into one tool. In practice, this circle of collaboration was created through partial collaborations between some of the research centres, conferences and events, and initiatives by the European Commission.

New aviation business models will be affected by the availability of environmental data for each type of aircraft and air vehicle route, helping to formulate more rigorous, evidence-based green policies. It will be achieved through the development of the RefMap analysis platform, processing environmental and climate data such as wind, noise, CO2 and non-CO2 emissions for both U-space and ATM - in other words, with new services based on a high level of digitalisation and automation of specific functions and procedures that support air traffic management.

Is the project paying attention to drones, vehicles with a wide variety of devices, where there is still a lack of legislation on how they should operate?

Yes, it is for large-scale commercial use. Moreover, this lack begins in Europe. The European Aviation Safety Agency is leading this issue and creating the regulations. Since last year, there have been regulations on the environment in which drones can be used, but it is also true that the agents involved in these processes are not aware of the responsibilities they will have.
Each country will have to define its internal conditions independently, with the cooperation of various players: governments, national aviation authorities, operators, and the cities themselves.
Cities have a decisive role, as they will be the ones to define where they allow new aviation technologies to be used. Coordinating all the different players' decisions and wills will take time.

Could the lack of regulation create risks for air transport's fluidity?

To use a drone individually, you need a national aviation licence. However, in cities, local councils must define areas where drones may or may not be used. According to the European Commission, the distances of operations from buildings and people must be defined. Other essential aspects to define are noise, safety, and visual pollution.

Sofia Kalakou 3

We hope to achieve simulation models of the short- and long-haul environmental impacts of aeroplanes, air taxis and drones.


How will you work together with your partners?

Our partners from the technical universities will develop algorithms and simulate the impacts. Then we will integrate everything into a tool (software), and we, Iscte and the company will try to exploit the business opportunities. We will do this by collaborating with people who are part of the project and from outside.
We plan to interview 100 people from the regulatory field, airlines, airports, cities, and aviation experts, who will help us understand the most valuable indicators we want to have in the tool to pass on to the decision-makers. We are going to collect information from end users by analysing specific scenarios. The tool will show values, indicators and impact distribution maps that stakeholders can use.

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