Dubai airport studying air ripple effects

Dubai International has appointed a company to study air ripples created by arriving planes in the hope of increasing capacity at the world's second busiest airport.

Original caption: In a brilliant display of wingtip vortices, a corporate jet skims above the top of a dense cloud layer. The swirling clouds are created by the air flowing from below the wing, out around the edge to the top of the wing in a circular motion. This dramaticaory Mod. Dis. Date App. Date --- Image by © Paul Bowen/Science Faction/Corbis
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Dubai International has appointed a company to study air ripples created by arriving planes in the hope of increasing capacity at the world’s second busiest airport.

Landing planes leave a wake behind them much like boats in water, said Ryan Ellison, a project manager at Avtech, a Swedish company that has been awarded a minimum 14-month contract to study the so-called “vortex wakes”.

“The difference is that a trailing aircraft can’t see that, whereas on the water you can, so a smaller aircraft flying into a very large aircraft wake could feel some bumps or some turbulence,” he said.

For more than four decades air-traffic controllers have used standard separation distances between landing planes based on weight to account for the wake generated by the aircraft. But Dubai airport officials hope that by studying the strength and movement of the wake vortices it can safely increase the number of planes flying into the hub.

"We have one of the industry's most proactive growth plans at Dubai Airports to cater for the estimated 100 million passengers we expect to pass through our airports by 2020," said Helen Woodrow, the vice president of forecasting and research at Dubai Airports.

“This project is indicative of the initiatives we are taking to optimise the efficiency of our operation and augment safety as well as capacity,” she added. It is a complicated process, but essentially the study uses lidar equipment – a laser light sensor originally designed to track wind movements – to measure molecule movements in the atmosphere to calculate the wake.

“What we’re doing is taking a closer look at the data, saying OK, based on the aircraft that are flying in Dubai and the [meteorological] conditions, this is what’s actually happening with the wake and taking a look at that and seeing how we can actually use that information to increase the capacity at the airport,” said Mr Ellison.

Since the start of the year, Dubai International has climbed two places in the global rankings of the Airports Council International monthly traffic report to second place. It is now just behind London Heathrow. However, some in the industry think the London airport may not be able to hold onto its crown for much longer.

In April, at the World Travel & Tourism Summit in Abu Dhabi, Willie Walsh, who runs British Airways and Iberia, predicted that Dubai would become the busiest international airport by 2015.