Airlines to use NASA app to cut flight times, save fuel

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Airlines to use NASA app to cut flight times, save fuel
NASA's test-bed cockpit for TAP, with the tablet device mounted on the windshield. Source: NASA.

Cockpit decision support tool helps pilots optimise routes.

Virgin America and Alaska Airlines will start using an application developed by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help find optimum routes that will shorten flight times and save fuel for the carriers.

Known as the traffic aware planner (TAP), the software tool has been evaluated in a Piaggio P180 Avanti plane and found to be effective in reducing flight times.

On its initial test flight, a NASA pilot used TAP to make a route change request to air traffic controllers, which in turn provided a shortcut that saved four minutes of time, the agency said.

Shaving off just four minutes of the flight time could result in "massive" fuel and time savings along with substantially reduced emissions, NASA said.

TAP hooks up directly to airplanes' avionics information hubs and can read a multitude of information to arrive at optimum route suggestions. This includes the present position and altitude of aircrafts, flight routes, and if the planes have cockpit internet connectivity, real-time weather condititions, wind forecasts and restricted airspace status.

NASA's traffic aware strategic aircrew requests - TASAR - software can also connect to the automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) receiver on planes, and scan the skies for signals from nearby air traffic to avoid their flight paths.

Monitoring the position and flight paths of surrounding planes makes it easier for air traffic controllers to approve route changes for TAP-equipped aircraft.

TAP is a Windows application that runs on tablets computers.

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