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UC3M participates in European research project to reduce aviation's environmental footprint


The European Union's (EU) RefMap scientific project, in which the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) is participating, proposes solutions to reduce aviation's environmental footprint. For example, they are already investigating the human response to drone noise and a system to predict the wind in urban areas in order to optimise the trajectories of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).


Can we imagine commercial aircraft that operate in an environmentally neutral way? Is it possible to design smaller electric aerial vehicles (drones) that share the sky with classic aircraft? Can we help airlines make more environmentally friendly choices, such as using optimal flight paths that minimise climate impact, air pollution and the use of sustainable aviation fuels?

The answer to all these questions is yes, according to the researchers who are part of the RefMap project. In particular, their vision for sustainable aviation is embodied in tangible objectives and concrete proposals. In this three-year project, experts from the general aviation sector come together to marry the two worlds of air traffic management and unmanned aircraft systems traffic management, focusing their research primarily on future aviation business models.

The RefMap multidisciplinary consortium is made up of 11 partners, including universities, SMEs and experts from 8 European countries and its aim is to reduce the environmental impact of airline air travel and unmanned aerial systems by creating a digital service that optimises flight paths at both the individual level (micro scale) and the air transport system level (macro scale).

Using environmental data (such as wind, noise, CO2 and other gas emissions), RefMap's analytical platform will help airlines, airports and regulators to make more environmentally friendly choices. This will lead to stricter, evidence-based environmental policy-making in the aviation sector and the development of new aviation business models in line with the EU Green Agenda.

The first results of the technical work

RefMap's UK partner, the University of Salford, has completed the first in a series of experiments aimed at understanding the human response to drone noise. The ultimate goal is to develop a model to predict the disturbance caused by drone noise and to help optimise their trajectory to reduce the impact on communities.

In addition, RefMap is now able to predict the wind around realistic urban areas, which can be used to explore and optimise UAV trajectories using a low-fidelity computational fluid dynamics model. The Delft University of Technology, together with AgentFly Technologies, have been working on it, and their teams are already planning the next experimental campaign in the Czech Republic to measure the noise emitted by a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicle operations.

In addition, RefMap's coordinator, the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, has developed an emissions method, adapting existing ones for traditional fuels, to take into account sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in different mixing ratios.

Within the framework of this project, a comprehensive and detailed analysis will be presented at UC3M that explores the feasibility and potential of using climate-friendly flight planning as an operational measure to mitigate the climate impact of the aviation sector. “The results obtained so far show that the effectiveness of climate-optimised route planning in mitigating climate impact is closely related to daily weather conditions, thus acting as a crucial indicator,” say the project's researchers, María Cerezo and Manuel Soler, from UC3M's Aerospace Engineering Department.

The RefMap project started on the 1st of February 2023 and is scheduled to end on the 31st of January 2026, coordinated by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. In addition to UC3M, the following institutions are part of the project: AgentFly Technologies s.r.o. (AFT), Delft University of Technology (TUD), DronePrep, Future Needs Management Consulting (FN), Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS), Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (KTH), S&T, University of Birmingham, University Institute of Lisbon, and University of Salford. The project has received funding from the European Union's HORIZON Research and Innovation Programme and, more specifically, from CINEA (European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency) of the European Commission, under grant agreement number 101096698.

More information: 

RefMap project website