NASA Creates App Aimed At Shortening Commercial Flights, Saving Fuel

15-192_tasar_in_cockpit_0There’s an app for just about everything. And that now includes one created by NASA and aimed at helping commercial airlines shorten flight times and conserve fuel.

NASA announced on Tuesday that Alaska Airlines and Virgin America will be the first commercial carriers to use the new Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) application to make “traffic aware strategic aircrew requests (TASARs)” in order to save time and reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

The technology – which is loaded into a tablet – works by reading the planes current position, route and other real-time information and then looks for an alternate routes or altitude changes that can save both time and money.

“TAP connects directly to the aircraft avionics information hub on the aircraft,” David Wing, TASAR project lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center, said, adding that the device can connect to with the plane’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver and scan the ADS-B signals of nearby air traffic to avoid potential conflicts in any proposed flight path changes, making it easier for air traffic controllers to approve a pilot’s route change request.

Airlines equipped with Internet connectivity in the cockpit can also use the technology to check weather conditions, wind forecasts and restricted airspace status to further increase flight efficiency.

Because the software is loaded into a tablet – which many pilots already use – it doesn’t require any major changes to be made to the aircraft.

Wing says his team has already tested the technology several times, including once in which they changed the route, received permission from air traffic control, and saved about four minutes off the flight time.

While four minutes might not sound like a lot of time, Wing says that time shaved off each leg of the flight could translate into significant fuel savings.

“Up until now there has been no way to deliver comprehensive wind and congestion data to pilots in near-real time,” Tom Kemp, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of operations, said. “TASAR is a ‘super app’ that will give our pilots better visibility to what’s happening now versus three hours earlier when the flight plan was prepared.”

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