Shaving a few minutes off flight times mightn’t seem like that big a deal, but with tens of thousands of aircraft jetting across the skies each day, the fuel and carbon emission savings would quickly add up if more direct routes were taken more often. NASA is looking to encourage exactly that with software for air carriers that monitors conditions like weather and flight paths to suggest faster routes. Virgin America and Alaska Airlines have answered the boarding call and will put the system through its paces over the next three years.
Dubbed the Traffic Aware Planner (TAP), NASA’s software can be loaded onto a tablet computer in the form of an app and hooks up directly to an aircraft’s onboard avionics hub, along with the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver and the Internet if the aircraft has it.
From here it monitors things like the aircraft’s current position, altitude, flight route, surrounding air traffic and real-time weather conditions, and searches for changes in altitude or routes that can save flight time and, in effect, fuel and carbon emissions. Equipped with this knowledge, pilots can make more informed “traffic aware strategic aircrew requests” (TASARs), or route change requests. In turn, this will make it simpler for air traffic controllers to approve such requests.