NASA tool to help airlines minimise weather delays

Written by Press Trust of India | Washington | Updated: Oct 16 2014, 20:56pm hrs
NASA has developed a new tool that would help airlines minimise weather delays by constantly analysing the air traffic, saving both flight time and fuel.

The tool designed to alleviate some weather-induced interruptions and resulting frustrations is testing well in ongoing field trials that involve American Airlines and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NASA said.

Known as Dynamic Weather Routes, or DWR, the computer software tool is programmed to constantly analyse air traffic throughout the National Airspace System, along with the ever-shifting movements of weather severe enough to require an airliner to make a course change.

When the DWR tool finds an opportunity for an airliner to fly more efficiently to its destination, saving time and money, while also remaining a safe distance from the storm, the computer rings an alert to an airline flight dispatcher that sounds like "cha-ching."

American Airlines has been evaluating DWR since 2012 and noted, for example, that on one flight of a Boeing 777 flying from Dallas/Fort Worth to Buenos Aires, the software tool helped save 26 minutes from the original planned route around a line of thunderstorms.

With an average fuel burn rate of 14,500 pounds/hour, the estimated savings for that flight was more than USD 2,500 in fuel costs.

For another American flight, a Boeing MD82 flying from Dallas/Fort Worth to New Orleans, the tool helped save 31 flying minutes or about USD 1,400 in fuel costs.

"The feedback we've received from American Airlines has been very favourable," said David McNally, lead engineer for DWR at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California.

"Analysis of the DWR test data indicates there was an estimated savings of 3,355 flying minutes for 538 American Airlines flights from July 2012 through September 2014, or about 6.2 minutes per flight on average," McNally said.

If those same numbers held for the approximately 15,000 flights flying through North Texas in 2013 for which DWR identified reroute opportunities, the savings in flight time could add up to about 100,000 flying minutes - or more than two months' worth of fuel burning and time not wasted in the air.