Wellington Flight Path Trial

20 Mar 2018

A trial using satellite navigation technology to improve flight paths, reduce noise and improve the environment will commence in Wellington from September.

A trial using satellite navigation technology to improve flight paths, reduce noise and improve the environment will commence in Wellington from September.

The Performance Based Navigation (PBN) trial will see aircraft use their Global Positioning System (GPS) to follow optimised flight paths with better accuracy, meaning they’ll consume less fuel, create less noise and emit less carbon dioxide.

Andy Boyd, Manager of Air Traffic Operations for Airways New Zealand, says the new paths are part of an international industry and government initiative to modernise New Zealand’s airspace and align with global standards – in New Zealand this is delivered under the New Southern Sky programme

“In designing the new flight paths we have aimed to balance the needs of the community and the environment along with aircraft safety and efficiency requirements. The new technology allows for shorter, curved flight paths, which lowers fuel burn and exhaust emissions. More efficient arrival descents should also reduce noise levels.”

Wellington’s trial is a joint initiative being undertaken by Airways, the Board of Airline Representatives (BARNZ), New Southern Sky and Wellington Airport.

Greg Thomas, General Manager of Communications for Wellington Airport, said “Few cities in the world benefit from an airport as conveniently located as Wellington’s.”

“This accessibility and proximity to residential properties means that we carefully monitor and manage the effects of airport noise on our neighbours. This trial offers us an opportunity to introduce further improvements.”

From next month, noise monitors will be installed at key locations along the trial flight paths to establish the baseline level of noise – what is experienced today under normal conditions. Information from the noise monitors, combined with community feedback during the trial, will assist in designing the most safe and efficient routes for aircraft.

The trial of the proposed PBN flight path arrivals into Wellington is expected to begin from September 2018. Up to 15% of arriving aircraft will use the PBN flight paths during the trial.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of BARNZ, said it means 15% fewer aircraft will use the direct northern approach during the trial.

“PBN offers significant environmental benefits, including the reduction of carbon emissions by reducing the amount of fuel used by aircraft. It will also mean a quieter approach to the airport by some aircraft,” said Mr Tighe-Umbers.

“Implementing the PBN routes is also expected to result in saving 900 tonnes of carbon emissions each year due to the efficient flight paths - the equivalent of permanently removing 325 cars from the road.”

“Aircraft arriving at an airport will be able to fly on minimum power settings throughout their approach all the way to the runway in a procedure known as a “continuous descent approach”.

“Aircraft flaps and landing gear may also be deployed when they are closer to the runway which reduces noise levels even further. While this practice is currently used wherever possible, PBN flight paths means it can be used every time by aircraft fitted with the technology,” said Mr Tighe-Umbers.

Mr Thomas said Wellington Airport engaged with its Air Noise Management Committee and residential representatives about the trial.

“Over the last 20 years, as airport activity has increased, the overall noise generated has significantly declined. This is a direct result of substantial and ongoing investment in new technology by the airlines and the airport, which has meant that noise has been kept to levels considerably less than its historic peak in 1988.

“These include changes in aircraft technology, which have produced a new generation of aircraft that are up to 30% quieter, the implementation of the airport’s curfew between midnight and 6.a.m and Improvements to the airport layout to reduce ground noise. The airport operates well within the noise limits set by the Wellington City Council District Plan. ”

A decision on the outcome of the trial is expected to be made in 2019 once the baseline and new paths are compared and analysed along with community feedback.

Flights to and from Wellington will be able to be viewed using Webtrak from Wellington Airport’s website.

Residents will receive information about the trial in their letterboxes this week or can visit


About Wellington Airport

Wellington Airport provides the infrastructure for aircraft to land and take off, and facilities for processing passengers as they arrive and leave. The airport manages aircraft noise in line with the Wellington City Council District Plan and coordinates feedback from the public about local aircraft noise.

About Airways New Zealand

Airways New Zealand is world-leading provider of air traffic management services and a key enabler of the region’s aviation system, optimising air traffic flows across the entire aviation network. We are responsible for one of the largest flight information regions in the world of 30 million square kilometres, and we manage more than one million air traffic movements per year.

Airways designs the PBN flight paths and procedures, and integrates the PBN trial aircraft into the overall air traffic flow approaching and departing Wellington Airport.

For more information please visit

About New Southern Sky

New Southern Sky is the name for the implementation phase of the New Zealand Government’s National Airspace and Air Navigation Plan. New Southern Sky provides the practical steps aviation participants need to take to enable a safe, effective, transition to new technologies as demand for airspace increases. It is an ambitious 10-year programme with benefits that include shorter journeys, improved safety, and lower carbon emissions.


The Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ) represents most international airlines which operate into New Zealand. BARNZ participates in committees at New Zealand’s airports which consider and make operational decisions regarding the use of essential aviation facilities and services, and related aeronautical facilities such as airspace, and operational conduct of airlines.