I have been reading documents about the concepts of Free-Flight and Free-Route that are being implemented (or being simulated to be implemented in the future) in Europe since 2012 by the initiative Single European Sky, that aims to provide a safer and more efficient airspace.

I have noticed that the concept is similar but it is treated differently, and I am wondering what's the main difference between these two concepts. Also, is it a safe concept? (It involves more possible conflicts in the airspace, if not carefully implemented).

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any reference to free-flight being implemented? The two are very different, but before I answer I'd like to see what you are referring to for free flight. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DeltaLima I have read that free-flight is not yet implemented but it is being simulated with TAAM and VAMS (Total Airspace and Airport Modeler / Virtual Airspace Modeling Simulation). However, the Free-Route concept is already implemented in some free-route airspace zones (e.g. Maastricht). I modified my question to clarify that. $\endgroup$
    – Airman01
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 8:39

2 Answers 2


The difference is between the definition itself.

Free Flight : Free flight is a developing air traffic control method that uses no centralized control (e.g. air traffic controllers). Instead, parts of airspace are reserved dynamically and automatically in a distributed way using computer communication to ensure the required separation between aircraft. This new system may be implemented into the U.S. air traffic control system in the next decade.[citation needed] Its potential impact on the operations of the national airspace system is disputed, however.

This effectively means that, if a part of space is reserved for free flight, you can effectively do anything with your flight plan. Moreover this reserved space would change dynamically, so if there is an approaching aircraft nearby., your free flight space changes to accommodate free flight space for the other flight as well. Both of the planes would have DIFFERENT free flight space, and they can adjust their flight plan just in their own flight space. This eliminates the need for ATC completely.

Free Route Airspace : Free Route Airspace (FRA) is a specified airspace within which users may freely plan a route between a defined entry point and a defined exit point. Subject to airspace availability, the route can be planned directly from one to the other or via intermediate (published or unpublished) way points, without reference to the ATS route network. Within this airspace, flights remain subject to air traffic control.

Here, the Airspace allotment remains under the control of the ATC, which allocates single space to multiple planes, and there one can decide which path to take. Here, inherently there is a possibility of overlapping routes (Because of the same airspace being allotted to multiple planes), and thats why, some routes are allowed in this space, and some are not.

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Moreover, there is the Sectorless ATM Concept of DLR researchers Korn et al.:

Feasibility of a new air traffic management concept is examined which might increase the efficiency of en-route operations by up to 100%. The concept follows the idea of a sector-less airspace organization. Aircraft entering the airspace (e.g. the German airspace or the entire European Airspace) will be assigned to one controller who is in charge of controlling the aircraft from entry point (or TMA exit point) to exit point of the airspace (or TMA entry point). First simple real time simulations revealed very promising results. The concept seems to enable an easy transition into a user preferred trajectory (direct-to) operations whilst at the same time increasing ATCO’s efficiency and airspace capacity.

They found that in their scenario the number of potential conflicts between trajectories that take the direct path from entry to exit point decreased about 30° relative to potential conflicts between trajectories on the traditional airways.


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