NASA tech could trim air travel delays

NASA tech could trim air travel delays

When severe storms hit, air travel delays are all but guaranteed.  Last month alone, more than 10,000 flights were cancelled in a three-day period after a snowstorm dropped up to 30 inches on the East Coast from New York to Georgia. But NASA is working on a software-driven solution that could ease the pain for travellers, airlines and air traffic controllers alike.

NASA's Ames Research Center, the Federal Aviation Administration and industry developers are developing and testing a system known as Dynamic Weather Routes. According to NASA, the system updates and compares weather and air traffic data to find alternate routes when severe weather is likely to impact planes already in the air.

The DWR system collects and updates weather and air traffic information every 12 seconds and uses the data to find alternative routes and resolve air traffic conflicts. (The traditional method depends on a teleconference held every two hours.) DWR can account for frequent weather changes and plot new routes to avoid traffic or airspace that is designated for special use.

A 10-person team has been developing  DWR since 2010, and research shows the software could save 10 minutes per flight.  “The [current] static weather avoidance routes may not be well tailored to the weather of the day,” Kapil Sheth, a NASA aerospace research engineer, explained. “Large buffers compensate for forecast uncertainty of up to four hours ahead. When weather changes, it leaves an opportunity to save time and fuel.”

The Ames Research Center was awarded a patent for DWR late last year, and an industry partner has been field testing the prototype system for more than two years. Dave McNally, NASA’s principal investigator for DWR, said that one aerospace company already has licensed DWR, and the system is currently being used for advisories on flights.

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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