WATCH: NASA aeronautical innovators seek to revolutionize air travel efficiency


By NASA // March 28, 2022


VIDEO ABOVE: For a team of NASA aeronautical innovators working with government and industry partners, the last five or so years have been invested in developing and demonstrating new tools to help you fly from here to there in the most fastest, most fuel-efficient and most economical. as efficiently as possible.

(NASA) – For a team of NASA aeronautical innovators working with government and industry partners, the past five years or so have been invested in developing and demonstrating new tools to help you fly from here to there from the fastest and most fuel-efficient way. , and cost-effectively possible.

As the Airspace Technology Demonstration (ATD) project completes its research and writing its final report, the potential benefits for airports, airlines and travelers are clear.

For example, over a million gallons of jet fuel were saved by airlines at one airport over a four-year period by testing new computer software that dramatically reduces surface congestion at busy airports.

“ATD’s mission was to take NASA technology out of the lab and into the field. These new tools and technologies have been embraced by the FAA and industry, and are being deployed in control facilities, operations centers and flight decks across the country,” said Shawn Engelland, ATD Project Manager from NASA.

“While this may seem small compared to the billions of gallons used in aviation, it is an almost immediately realized benefit that will increase as the many ATD technologies are used by more and more airlines in more and more airlines. more airports,” Engelland said. .

Public comments from some of NASA’s partners who directly benefit from the various components of ATD research echoed the positive mood.

“(This) is one of those instances in life where you ask for one thing and you get so much more in return,” said Rob Goldman, a Delta Airlines pilot.

Seated left to right, Jason McMahon, Helmuth Eggeling and Scott Nyberg – lead test pilots for Honeywell Aerospace’s Flight Ops engineering organization – participate in final checks of ATD-1 technologies and flight plans for the Nasa. (NASA picture)

To accomplish its many and varied goals, ATD has been divided into three sub-projects, each seeking to improve the efficiency of a particular stage of an aircraft’s flight from departure gate to arrival gate.

The ATD-1 focused on airport arrivals as planes descended from cruise to landing. ATD-2 examined airport taxiing and departures. ATD-3 examined weather avoidance in the cruise phase of a flight.

All three sub-projects have been fully embraced by involving government and industry partners in the development, testing and flight demonstration of the new tools and technologies – software and hardware.

When deemed ready by NASA – and based on deliberate and ongoing engagement with stakeholders – the knowledge and technology was passed on to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry for that they can develop, customize and decide where and when to deploy to support their operations.

“At every stage, we kept our main objectives in mind. We wanted to make air traffic operations more predictable and efficient and, in doing so, help save time and fuel and reduce emissions,” Engelland said.


The first sub-project, ATD-1, included two major technologies that together would allow pilots to descend more easily from their cruising altitude and land at a more predictable time.

The first technology looked at descent from cruising altitude, seeking to change the way these maneuvers had been performed for years. With GPS now available, ATD-1 proposed that the descent could be made more efficiently.

So instead of stepping down a few thousand feet at a time, pilots could perform a continuous descent starting at their cruising altitude and ending with a touchdown.

Delivered to the FAA in 2014 as a unique tool called Terminal Sequencing and Spacing, it contained two technologies developed by NASA named Traffic Management Advisor with Terminal Metering and Controller Managed Spacing.

ATD-1’s second technology – known as Flight Deck Interval Management – was completed in 2017 and handed over to the FAA and industry in 2018.

This tool allows traffic managers to safely increase the number of aircraft that can land on the same runway at busy airports by more precisely managing the time, or interval, between each aircraft arrival.

This is largely done by pilots using new cockpit-installed equipment that guides them on how to maintain a certain distance from an aircraft ahead of them.


The ATD-2 subproject focused on airport departures.

The objective, in this case, was for an airliner to make the trip from the gate to the runway to cruising altitude without stopping – something that wastes fuel disrupts schedules and annoys passengers. can’t wait to get started.

The solution was to develop and test technology that coordinates schedules between those managing the movement of planes from an airport gate to a location in the sky after takeoff where the plane can safely rejoin air traffic. – like a car merging on a highway.

Developed as an integrated arrival/departure surface tool, demonstrating the software and procedures that took place in two field demonstrations.

The first demonstration began in September 2017 and brought together ground and air traffic managers with the FAA and American Airlines at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. The demonstration expanded its scope in 2018 with new capabilities and more airspace involved by including the FAA’s Atlanta-based Air Traffic Control Center.

An example of NASA and FAA collaboration, at the NASA Air Traffic Management Laboratory near Dallas/Ft. At Worth International Airport in Texas, researchers Al Capps (seated) and Paul Borchers present tools that air traffic managers have been successfully testing since 2017 at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina to more efficiently direct the departing traffic. (NASA picture)

It was in Charlotte that the ATD-2 subproject demonstrated immediate tangible benefits in the form of fuel savings, reduced emissions and time savings. After four years, participating aircraft had saved more than a million gallons of fuel and nearly 250 days of engine run time, while preventing the release of carbon dioxide equivalent to the capture capacity of more than 170,000 urban trees.

The second, shorter demonstration, which took place primarily during the summer of 2021, focused on coordinating air traffic departing from two North Texas airports – Dallas/Fort. Worth International and Dallas Love Field nearby. Southwest Airlines and Envoy Air joined American Airlines as participants.

Testing and data collection took place from November 22, 2020 to September 17, 2021, during which 84 aircraft met the conditions under which potential benefits could be measured. These 84 flights saved more than 7,000 gallons of jet fuel, avoided 24 hours of delays and reduced emissions equivalent to 1,110 urban trees.

The North Texas test results were not as impressive as the Charlotte demonstration due to the smaller sample size involved; however, the response from participating airlines was equally strong.

“The considerable savings [ATD-2] achieved…even in a short time of trial; we don’t want to give up,” Kenneth Vogt, Flight Dispatch Technology Manager for Envoy Air, at a public workshop on ATD technologies. “The tool is phenomenal. It exceeded any expectations we could have had.

Bob Shirley, air traffic control coordinator for American Airlines added: “There is no doubt the numbers were overwhelming. I never thought we would save so much.

ATD-3 focused on providing pilots, aircraft dispatchers and traffic managers with information and tools to enable them to make effective course corrections to a flight already in the air when bad weather or congested airspace suddenly appears ahead.

These new flight paths are based on the combination of data sources and communication solutions based on inputs such as current weather, winds, presence of other air traffic, proximity to restricted airspace and air traffic. status of the aircraft itself – namely its capabilities and remaining fuel.

ATD paves the way for a sustainable ATM

As the ATD project completes its final work, NASA’s contributions to improving air traffic management (ATM) for every aircraft flying at any altitude continues with the Air Traffic Management project – eXploration, or ATM-X.

ATM-X explores what the national airspace might look like by mid-century – space that safely accommodates delivery drones, city air taxis, electric-powered aircraft and commercial supersonic jetliners flying over the earth.

At the same time, project researchers are developing more immediate use of tools and technologies to help make this vision a reality.

“There is still so much to do and do, as the demand for safe and sustainable air travel increases and the skies become busier than ever, not just here in the United States, but around the world,” Engelland said.



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