NASA Tests Flight Planning Software


Image: NASA/David Wing

In partnership with Alaska Airlines, NASA is testing cockpit-based flight planning software that is designed to save time and fuel using real-time flight data. Developed by NASA, the Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) software optimizes routes using factors like real-time weather, winds, air traffic and aircraft fuel burn, including associated weight and performance changes. The tablet-based program can update recommended routes as often as every 60 seconds as conditions change throughout the flight.

“Route optimization is not a new concept,” said Alaska Airlines director of fleet technology support Bret Peyton. “But having a truly rich set of real-time data to use for decision-making after departure is where the game-changing capabilities of TAP come into play.” Alaska is currently using TAP on three of its aircraft. Each one is flying several flights a week during the eight-month-long trial period while NASA gathers data on the program’s effectiveness. According to Peyton, Alaska is approaching 50 flights flown with the new software.

NASA says that early evaluations of TAP look promising, showing savings of roughly 400 to 500 pounds of fuel and about four minutes of flight time on average during simulated airline flights. Real-world results have also yielded positive results, with five of Alaska’s first six TAP-assisted flights resulting in route changes that saved time and/or fuel. The TAP software is part of NASA’s Traffic Aware Strategic Aircrew Requests (TASAR) project.