Boeing adopts NASA software to boost airline fuel efficiency

NASA algorithms take into account wind other issues to reduce flight times

NASA today said Boeing had adopted software the space agency developed to boost fuel savings.

The software, known as Direct-To was developed at NASA's Ames Research Center and promises to let airlines to save fuel and reduce emissions by identifying flight route shortcuts that are acceptable to air traffic controllers.

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Boeing said it incorporated the technology into its new subscription-based Direct Routes service which is being offered as part of the company's overarching InFlight Optimization Services which the company says will help airlines save fuel and increase environmental efficiency.  Direct Routes automatically alerts an airline's operations center and flight crew when a simple, more fuel-efficient path opens up along an airplane's intended route.

In trials NASA said "We estimated a potential combined savings of about 900 flying minutes per day for all aircraft in the demonstration airspace," said David McNally, the project principal investigator at Ames.  Initial Boeing projections show that Direct Routes can save more than 40,000 minutes of flight time per year for a medium-size U.S. airline -- the equivalent of operating hundreds of flights that use no fuel and produce no emissions.

According to NASA, rather than being able to fly the most efficient route to a destination, aircraft operators in today's air traffic control system are usually constrained to follow established airways that are often comprised of inefficient route segments. Current air traffic control user interface inefficiencies inhibit controllers from issuing user preferred routes, even under light traffic conditions.

According to as NASA paper on Direct-To accounting for the wind is an essential element of the Direct-To algorithm.   According to NASA, its flight control software, Center-TRACON Automation System (CTAS) receives hourly updates of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Rapid Updated Cycle atmospheric model, which represents the highest accuracy wind model currently available. For each candidate aircraft, CTAS computes the time to fly to the Direct-To fix along the flight plan route and the time to fly direct to the fix. If the savings along the direct route is greater than one minute, the clearance advisory is added to the Direct-To List.

Aside from Direct Routes the service includes Wind Updates, which Boeing says increases fuel efficiency and improves aircraft performance by sending data link messages directly to the flight deck with real-time, flight-customized wind information. These messages enable the airplane's flight management computer to recalculate flight control inputs based on more accurate and precise information, Boeing stated.

Boeing said it not only collaborated with NASA, but also Continental Airlines and Southwest Airlines in the development of Direct Routes to ensure operational viability and assess the benefits and shared details of the project and its findings with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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